Minister of Social Services and Urban Development Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday he will wage a war on poverty in The Bahamas, as he announced plans to implement a number of programs to assist Bahamians.
“My job is to declare war on poverty today and to begin a program of transformation to ensure that we eliminate human suffering and bring a new day to people’s lives,” he said.
Wilchcombe, who served as minister of tourism during the last Christie administration, said there is a need for housing security in The Bahamas, particularly in places like Grand Bahama, where hurricanes left many homeless.
“There are so many people who still, today, their homes are not repaired,” the West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP-elect said.
“They are still living in squalid conditions following Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Dorian.
“So, I want to make sure that we get to work on that immediately because so many don’t have anywhere to live. So, how do we find places for them to live? How do we ensure a hot meal every day?”
Wilchcombe said he plans to work closely with the Ministry of Housing to provide temporary shelter.
“Too often we are told of individuals given a one-week stay or a two-week stay, and then what?” he asked.
“Then they’re back on the streets. You can cause more pain and hurt in the society. You must remember what A.D. Hanna said: ‘Wipe the tear from every eye.’
“You must remember what Sir Lynden Pindling said: ‘Bring peace to every heart.’
“That’s going to be how we drive our ministry.”
Wilchcombe said he also wants to extend the government’s rental assistance program, which was implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that left thousands of Bahamians unemployed.
“I want to see that reimplemented,” he said.
“I want to see it extended. There are too many people today who don’t have anywhere to live, one.
“Two, there are many who have somewhere to live but can’t pay the electricity bills. So, you’re having all these circumstances. We are going to find a way to create the balance.”
In February 2021, then-Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell told parliamentarians more than $1 million was paid in rent assistance since December 2020.
At the start of the pandemic, the government announced a rental deferment program, in which tenants whose income was impacted by the pandemic would be allowed to defer up to 40 percent of their rent for April to June to be paid back within 12 months.
But Campbell said that did not work out as the government had planned and the ministry was dealing with a backlog of applicants.
In November 2020, Campbell announced that his ministry intended to assist 1,000 people in rental assistance that month. He said each person would receive $1,200.