With thousands of Bahamians still out of work, Minister of Public Service and National Insurance Brensil Rolle said yesterday that the government has extended its unemployment assistance program for another month until the end of April.
“The initial program was to end in December but we have extended it so far up until [the end of] April,” he said outside Cabinet.
Rolle said the National Insurance Board (NIB) and the government have already spent more than $300 million helping to keep unemployed Bahamians afloat during the pandemic.
“The government has spent over $150 million on this project so far,” he said.
“And it’s roughly costing the government $12 million to $15 million a month. And so, as soon as persons get back to work we can divert those funds into some other area.”
Rolle said NIB has spent an additional $165 million on unemployment assistance.
“So, combined we’re talking about … a quarter billion dollars in assistance programs to Bahamians during this pandemic,” he said.
Through the government’s unemployment assistance program, individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic receive weekly payments from the government through NIB. The program gives additional support to individuals who have already received the legal limit of 13 weeks of unemployment benefit from NIB.
It also extends the unemployment assistance program set up to cover those who would not normally qualify for the benefit.
In October, weekly unemployment payments were decreased from $150 to $100.
Rolle said that there is no intention to further reduce payment amounts at this time, and noted that the government may have to extend the program again if things don’t pick up.
“We are there to support the Bahamian people and we look forward to providing whatever assistance as necessary for them and on a monthly basis, the Cabinet has been evaluating the process,” he said.
On February 14, Director of Labour John Pinder estimated that 40 percent of Bahamians were still not working, including individuals still furloughed.
Pinder said the unemployment rate likely stood somewhere between 26 and 28 percent.