Minister of the Public Service and National Insurance Brensil Rolle said yesterday the National Insurance Board (NIB) will likely spend around $100 million from its fund to facilitate social safety net measures needed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Up to the first week in July, NIB had paid out more than $60 million in unemployment benefits. But given the extended closure of the tourism economy, and with approximately 34,000 workers still unemployed or furloughed, Rolle said NIB will have to spend more.
“No one would have anticipated, no one would have known that COVID-19 would have taken us to this place. When COVID-19 first came, National Insurance was in the process of setting up its budget and we had projected that we would spend a maximum of $60 million,” Rolle said while seconding a resolution for the Bahamas Development Bank to obtain a loan from NIB.
“We will not be surprised if we spend $100 million on this exercise. And that’s from the National Insurance side, that’s not from the government’s assistance program. The government’s assistance program, as you know, is consistent with its mandate, which has been that it’s the people’s time.”
Following its initial allocation of $10 million to assist workers adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government allocated $48 million in the 2020/2021 budget for an unemployment benefit (UEB) extension program to provide assistance to those Bahamians who remain out of work.
“The government put out initially $10 million to support and to be the public safety net for taxi drivers, barbers, hair braiders, anyone in the tourist industry who lost their job because of COVID-19. The government soon found out that $10 million wasn’t enough, $10 million went in a simple clap,” Rolle said.
“We know today that approximately 34,000 persons are unemployed, we know for a fact that they come from all categories of Bahamians. But what we know and what this government has done, is made provisions to deal with and become a social safety net for thousands of ordinary Bahamians.”
NIB has revealed it had to process, in a matter of months, more unemployment claims than it has in a single year, which, in some instances, stalled payments to eligible claimants.
Rolle said NIB is aware of its challenges and is working toward addressing them.
“I understand the frustration, I know what’s being said. We are in the process of trying to do whatever is necessary to ensure that individuals are paid their unemployment assistance on a timely basis,” he said.
“Whatever our obligation is to you, to our community, we will do our best, we will get the funds to you on a timely basis.”