The National Insurance Board (NIB) has spent $263.6 million in unemployment benefits and assistance since Hurricane Dorian, Minister of Public Service and National Insurance Brensil Rolle said yesterday.
Between August 25, 2019, and May 18, 2021, NIB spent $15.6 million on Dorian survivors and government-funded Dorian extension programs, $16 million on self-employed government-funded unemployment assistance programs, $134.6 million on the government-funded unemployment extension program and $97.4 million on the national insurance unemployment benefit.
In total, 85,374 individuals benefited from this assistance, according to data provided by Rolle in the House of Assembly.
“Mr. Speaker, I just spoke with the minister of state for finance and there are a couple of people who have legitimate cases as to why they should receive assistance,” said Rolle during the 2021/2022 budget debate.
“We know that. We know things are tough. Now, I’m advised by the minister of state that we will find a formula to do something. So I say to those individuals, those deserving individuals, hold on. We’re going to take care of you. We’re going to do it because it is the right thing to do. We are going to make sure that families are maintained, that people can eat.”
As the tourism industry and many businesses not directly related to tourism came to a standstill due to the pandemic, unemployment numbers swiftly rose with widespread layoffs.
Last month, the director of labor estimated that the unemployment rate was about 20 percent.
In December 2019, the unemployment rate stood at 10.7 percent, according to the Department of Statistics.
“As you know, the unemployment benefit was very crucial over the last two years,” Rolle said.
“We began with Hurricane Dorian and now it’s COVID-19. My staff said this is a one, two fund for The Bahamas and the Bahamian people.
“We all know about the massive unemployment created as a result of, firstly, Hurricane Dorian and then COVID-19. We all know that the events were unprecedented and created much challenges [for] everyone, including NIB, but what we also know is that NIB stood the test of time.
“NIB, with every challenge, it looked very hard, Mr. Speaker. It looked deep enough to find opportunity. NIB implemented many, many key items off its five-year strategic plan in just months.”
Rolle said NIB employees have proven to be robust, dependable, responsive and strong.
“Indeed, the organization has demonstrated the fortitude to transform crisis into opportunities,” Rolle said.
The government gave weekly payments of $200 when the unemployment assistance program started in March 2020.
It decreased the payments to $150 in July and to $100 in October.
“People are complaining, ‘What am I going to do with $100?’,” Rolle said.
“Well, Mr. Speaker, I know things are tough, but $400 a month can do a little something. Like I said, think of societies where this ain’t happening.
“Think of the fact that $263 million has been spent so far and that ain’t include May, June, July, August and September and that’s our commitment going forward; that’s the government’s commitment to its community. We’re going to do this until that day.”
Last month, Minister of State for Finance Kwasi Thompson said the government’s unemployment assistance program will end in September.