The National Insurance Board (NIB) is anticipating the already high number of Bahamians applying for unemployment benefits to increase as a result of Bimini being ordered to enter a complete lockdown as of Monday, Minister of National Insurance and Public Service Brensil Rolle said yesterday.
“We are expecting the numbers to grow as a result of that, but our numbers are already out through the roof,” Rolle said.
“So we’re dealing with the major hotel, that’s the Bimini Bay project properties (Resorts World Bimini). So, I anticipate more people will have to stay home and the lockdown will be felt to some degree by everyone.”
With Bimini being identified as a COVID-19 hotspot, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday announced that the island will be on lockdown for two weeks, until the end of May.
The country has been in a state of emergency since mid-March, with many businesses remaining closed and thousands of Bahamians becoming unemployed due to the impact of COVID-19.
Although NIB was already dealing with an unprecedented number of claims, Rolle said it does have the capacity to continue paying out benefits to those affected.
Rolle said payments are costing NIB an estimated $16 million a month and that it would not be able to keep up with payments over a long period.
“It’s roughly costing us, we’re projecting an extra $16 million a month,” Rolle said.
“I don’t think we could sustain it over a very long period, but I suspect that today, yes, we have the capacity to do that.
“We are doing due diligence on the applications…and we’re trying to pay as quickly as we can. So, yes, we will feel the strain. But we are in a new space. We cannot [have] anticipated this.”
He added, “We don’t have a choice, actually.
“What choice do we have? The average Bahamian will say, ‘Well, you’ve just got to find the money,’ and I understand that principle.
“But we are in a space where we are trying to as quickly as possible deal with all of the claims and pay out all the benefits.”
At the beginning of this month, NIB Director Dr. Nicola Virgill-Rolle said that $16.84 million in unemployment benefits have been paid out to over 20,000 people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also said that a further $2.6 million has been paid out to over 5,000 self-employed people.