With the economies of Abaco and Grand Bahama at a standstill in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the National Insurance Board (NIB) is prioritizing unemployment benefit claims to bring a sense of normalcy to the lives of those impacted.
With many businesses demolished on the two islands and residents unable to work, NIB Director Dr. Nicola Virgill-Rolle said the board is bracing itself for a spike in claims and payments.
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people who are working and who can pay, to pay; but we’re trying to get a sense of what the unemployment situation is on those islands. We expect to have a rise in unemployment claims and again we’re making it as simple as possible for persons who find themselves without jobs to come in and claim for unemployment benefit,” she said.
But it’s still too early to determine how many people have been impacted and would qualify for payments, Virgill-Rolle noted.
“We don’t know this at this time. We’re actually going to be reaching out to the major employers on Grand Bahama and Abaco to understand what they intend to be doing, whether they’ll be continuing to pay, pay severance, and try to get a better understanding of how they’re going to treat this. But in the meantime, we want to make sure that persons who do file claims can be handled,” she said.
“So, we will accept a claim form, notwithstanding that the employers may not have signed off on the B-80 form, which shows that they were terminated, because the employer may not be around or may be busy with other things. So, we’re just trying to fulfill our mandate with social security and being that security blanket for the Bahamian people who are going through an immense challenge at the time in the north.”
In terms of NIB collections, Virgill-Rolle said, “While the debt is not extinguished we are not prioritizing going after it in those affected islands at this time.”
NIB, the social safety net of The Bahamas, caters to 144,000 employees and pays out about $285 million in benefits per year while only taking in about $280 million in contributions annually.
But Virgill-Rolle said the focus of the board right now is prioritizing all claims.
“So, we do short-term claims from maternity to sickness to unemployment – from those islands. So, our claims department is pulling out those claims to make sure that we process those more quickly, so people can again get income back into their hands,” she said.