With unemployment benefits for many set to end by the beginning of July, National Insurance Board (NIB) Director Dr. Nicola Virgil-Rolle said that NIB is encouraging Bahamians to start preparing themselves to work again.
“The unemployment program, it’s a benefit, and it’s something that people pay into,” said Virgill-Rolle during a Ministry of Finance panel titled “The Citizen’s Exchange: Protecting the Vulnerable in Times of Crisis” on Monday night.
“We’re calibrated for 13 weeks, and so we always have to be aware of that. For many people, that ends at the beginning of July or the end of June. So there is a horizon, a time frame for when that happens.”
She added, “And so we know that there’s going to be a period of time when our benefits may run out, and I think that the government is working on how do we look in and prepare for that.
“Complementary to that, I think, are the things that [the Organization for Responsible Governance] and [Hands 4 Hunger] have mentioned to prepare for the new norm. And so we’re going to be, at NIB, encouraging people as much as possible to register with the Department of Labour and their jobseekers website, where we can look at skills development, things like that to prepare you for the new Bahamas.
“And so those parts of it, I think, are going to be very important to make sure that we tool up wherever we can so that people are ready to go back to work and they can go back to their same jobs, or ready to do something else should those jobs not materialize in the time frame that we need them to materialize in.”
Aside from the unemployment benefit program, NIB has also rolled out a Government Unemployment Assistance Program intended to help those workers who are now unemployed but would not have been a part of the unemployment benefit program, such as those who were self-employed.
Virgill-Rolle said that collectively, between the programs, an estimated 39,000 people had received assistance.
“To date I can say that the National Insurance Board, in terms of our unemployment benefit program, we’ve served just over 32,000 people at a cost of $39.3 million for the unemployment benefit program, and that’s a program where you insure part of your income, you pay contributions and you’re able to receive benefits in times of need,” she said.
For the unemployment assistance program, she noted: “To date we’ve served just under 7,000 people at a cost of $9 million.”
Most businesses were ordered closed in mid-March as part of emergency measures enacted in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
Since then, roughly 55,000 of the country’s 225,000 workforce have applied for unemployment benefits, according to Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes.