With thousands of Bahamians still unemployed despite the gradual reopening of the economy, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced yesterday that the government has allocated $40 million to extend its unemployment assistance program an additional 13 weeks.
In response to the tens of thousands of Bahamians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and social distancing measures, the government initially made in excess of $10 million available to be disbursed through the National Insurance Board (NIB), to self-employed workers in the tourism industry and then other self-employed Bahamians adversely impacted by the lockdown.
As he wrapped up debate on the 2020/2021 budget in the House of Assembly yesterday, Minnis said his administration has made it a fundamental priority to put cash in the hands of displaced Bahamians through its special unemployment assistance programs.
“My government has budgeted over $40 million to provide a special allowance for those still unemployed when their NIB unemployment assistance ends. We will administer this special program through the NIB – as we are presently doing for self-employed individuals – but it is important to point out that this will not be NIB funds nor NIB assistance,” the prime minister said.
“Instead it is our recognition that tens of thousands of people will still need some measure of cash assistance after their NIB benefits expire. As such, the government is committed to directly assisting these individuals for up to an additional four months. Accordingly, this benefit is being extended from 13 weeks to 26 weeks for those who became unemployed due to COVID- 19.”
Up to the first week in June, NIB had paid out $9,084,705 million to 6,763 applicants of the government’s Unemployment Assistance Programme.
It is estimated that more than 40,000 workers had been furloughed as a result of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, NIB Director Nicola Virgill-Rolle said NIB had no intention of extending its normal unemployment benefit program.
Minnis said providing financial support and income replacement to furloughed workers is the third pillar of its COVID-19 economic response plan.
“This initiative comports with our third pillar, which is about extending and expanding existing policies geared toward sustaining employment,” he said.
“We are providing direct assistance to self-employed individuals who have been unable to support themselves by providing temporary income replacement over the next several months.
“As we reopen our economy in phases, this income replacement will provide bridge support to these individuals to begin to get back on their feet.”