Jobless assistance to end in Sept.

The government’s unemployment assistance program will come to an end in September, Minister of State for Finance Kwasi Thompson said yesterday, adding that the focus will shift to encouraging private sector employment in the upcoming budget year.

“It really was designed to be a three or four-month measure,” said Thompson at a press conference called to discuss various aspects of the 2021/2022 budget presented in Parliament on Wednesday.

“But unfortunately … the pandemic kept going and it is still continuing. And we have had to extend it well over 12 months.

“… We anticipate that up until September, that we will continue those existing unemployment benefits.

“But again, as we said, it is really about trying to transition from the government continuing to pay out the unemployment benefits to the government now finding ways to stimulate the private sector to create employment.

“And so, you will see where there is some funding to temporarily continue those unemployment benefits. But then the additional funding is for us to provide the tax concessions to stimulate the private sector to continue and to accelerate their pace of employment.

“That’s important because we have to transition from just pure government support to private sector employment because that’s long-term sustainable employment.”

The Bahamas recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020. Shortly after, the country was placed under a state of emergency and the competent authority ordered the closure of certain businesses, lockdowns and other restrictions. Thousands of Bahamians were forced to stay home. Many have still not returned to work.

The government’s unemployment program gives additional support to individuals who have already received the legal limit of 13 weeks of unemployment benefit from the National Insurance Board (NIB)

Payments are issued weekly by the government through NIB and are for individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The government gave weekly payments of $200 when the program started in March 2020. It was eventually reduced to $100 in October.

In his budget communication on Wednesday, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Hubert Minnis said his administration spent $118 million in government-funded unemployment assistance.

“This budget contribution put cash directly in the hands of unemployed and self-employed Bahamians impacted by the economic downturn,” Minnis said. “This sum does not include, and is in addition to, the earned benefits that were paid out by NIB under its ordinary unemployment benefits program.” 

Acting Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson said yesterday the intention is for those still unemployed by September to receive assistance from the Department of Social Services. 

“The social services have seen a bump up in their budget because … come September, those persons who are still unemployed, the plan is to transition them off to a social services program,” said Johnson during the press conference.

“And so, social services would have gotten a bump up to around $20 million specifically, so that would allow persons who leave that unemployment program after September who still require some support to enter into that program.”

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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