Nearly $150 million was paid out in unemployment benefits through a number of programs since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
“Combined, these programs have supported approximately 43,200 persons, and poured some $146.5 million into the domestic economy,” he said in the House of Assembly.
Of that number, Turnquest said $93.3 million was paid out by the National Insurance Board (NIB) to its beneficiaries. The remaining amount – $53.3 million – was paid out by the government through its unemployment program for the self-employed, who would not normally qualify for unemployment benefits, and its unemployment benefit extension program for those who exceeded NIB’s initial 13-week period.
“[F]rom the onset of the pandemic in the country, the government quickly executed an expanded unemployment assistance program to support self-employed persons who would not ordinarily qualify for the unemployment benefit under the NIB benefit scheme,” he said.
“This program ran from late March to June and was extended in the 2020/21 budget to run into the first half of the new fiscal year.
“To date, 7,115 persons have benefited from this program, with a total of $15.4 million paid out, and into the hands of Bahamians.
“The House would recall that the government also funded a special extension of unemployment benefits for unemployed persons who had exhausted their standard NIB benefit. This program is continuing its 13-week time period.
“There are 28,478 persons who have benefited from the initiative, with payments to date totaling $37.9 million.
“It is important to remind the House that these outlays are not standard NIB benefits but instead represent a special and targeted program designed and financed by the government to help address the vast economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.”
Turnquest added, “For the information of the House, under the regular unemployment benefit scheme funded directly through NIB contributions, some 38,598 persons have applied to date.
“From its own resources, NIB has paid out some $93.3 million directly to those beneficiaries.”
Turnquest said the government’s weekly allocation to the National Food Distribution Task Force was increased from $1 million to $1.3 million. He said so far, 110,000 people have received assistance through the program.
“Beginning last week, the government increased this allocation to $1.3 million per week, given the increased demand for support,” he said.
“Data from the Department of Social Services indicates that to date, approximately $11.9 million has been disbursed through the task force to participating non-governmental organizations, who have been working tirelessly to assist those in need.”
Turnquest said nearly $11 million has been spent on the public health system’s preparation for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Public health spending has accounted for the largest COVID-19-related outlays to date, between last fiscal year and the current; it remains a priority focus and a core part of our fiscal and economic strategy,” he said.
“The government allocated some $35.2 million in the current budget to the Ministry of Health, to assist with the detection, treatment and mitigation of COVID-19.
“Actual health-related COVID-19 expenditures as of June 30, included over $10.8 million, including funds to set up and manage quarantine facilities, expand existing healthcare facilities, purchase protective equipment and other medical supplies [and] support the COVID-19 response in the Family Islands.”