Minister of National Insurance Brensil Rolle said the chaos that ensued on Monday, as crowds of people waited to collect unemployment assistance and benefit checks, was unavoidable, and claimed that the majority of those in line left with the checks they were promised.
“For the most part, we’re satisfied a significant number of Bahamians and they got the checks that we printed for them,” he told reporters outside Cabinet yesterday.
“But you’ve got to take into account that there are hundreds of Bahamians, one, who do not have a bank account so we cannot make a direct deposit to them.
“Secondly, they may not want us to make a direct deposit because banks may deduct sums from them. And thirdly, some individuals, particularly those who wanted to get on the new rollover program, saw this as an opportunity to come to NIB to get service.”
NIB last week published a list of nearly 2,500 people for whom checks were ready for collection. However, many who lined up on Monday, claiming their names were on that list, said they waited for hours only to receive nothing.
Some said they had not received checks for weeks or had received little to nothing in unemployment assistance since March.
Rolle claimed those who did not collect checks on Monday likely had either picked up their checks on Thursday or were no longer unemployed.
“…There are hundreds of individuals who have gone back to work, and I discovered this yesterday when I went to the sports center,” he said.
“They have gone back to work. The companies have advised us that they’re back to work. And they have come for a check. Well, it doesn’t work like that. Unemployment assistance, once you go back to work, then you don’t get the assistance anymore from NIB.”
Rolle accused some Bahamians of being dishonest in their criticism of having not received funds for weeks, and noted the comments were only valid in “a small number of cases”.
“I’ve heard that criticism before and perhaps that may be justified in a small number of cases,” he said.
“But I tell you no lie, I have had individuals call me and say, ‘I have not collected money.’
“And I go to the system and I see that they have collected more than 10 weeks of checks. Most of the hotel workers, Atlantis, Baha Mar and all those companies, we paid directly. And so, most of them have collected their 13 weeks of unemployment assistance to date.”
Rolle said that NIB has done “extraordinarily”, having already paid out $100 million in unemployment assistance since March.
“We have spent over $100 million in unemployment assistance to ordinary Bahamians in the past four months,” he said.
“That is significant, in my view. It also is a reflection of the 38,000 Bahamians that are unemployed at this time.
“And so, we have not gone down this road before. We are doing extraordinarily, since we have put in the hands of ordinary Bahamians more than $100 million since this exercise got started.”
Rolle insisted that the Bahamian government is doing a better job of distributing unemployment assistance than many other countries are.
“When you have 38,000 individuals who are receiving or claiming unemployment assistance, and we have spent over $100 million and disbursed it directly to them, that is something that as ordinary Bahamians, we should be proud of it,” he said.
“We are better than every other Caribbean country… And we monitor our colleagues in the Caribbean to see exactly what they are doing. You are also aware that we will look better than the United States because they are fighting over unemployment assistance as we speak.”
Among the crowds on Monday were the elderly, disabled people and pregnant women, who all waited in the same line for hours.
Asked how the matter will be addressed going forward, Rolle said there will be a new system in place as of today to ensure a smoother operation.
“I understand the frustration of persons during this pandemic,” he said.
“We also understand that we have been going through more than 13 weeks of this activity and many individuals do not have the funds that they wish. And so, what we are determining for tomorrow is we will have a list of actual physical checks that we have in our possession.
“We will go down through the line and format a triage so that individuals who are there to pick up a check can join the line and leave the speculation to others.”
Rolle said the government’s unemployment rollover program may have also led to confusion among the public, but that they are working to remedy the situation.
“We also realize that from a perspective, a significant number of Bahamians just heard about the government rollover program and they have not registered in the program and so that has created some frustration,” he said.
“So, we have asked them to register so that they know and we can pay them.”
Rolle said there are still a “significant number of checks” that remain uncollected at NIB.