By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE National Insurance Board has paid out more than $5m in unemployment benefits to workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, NIB officials said yesterday.
Giving an update to reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting, Public Service and National Insurance Minister Brensil Rolle said some 12,000 people who have lost their income due to COVID-19 have already received unemployment payments from NIB. About 30,000 people have applied for NIB assistance.
He said: “We are just under 30,000 applications for unemployment assistance. So far, we have spent about $5m on 12,000 applications. We are processing a significant number of small businesses so we expect the numbers would increase significantly.
“We anticipate that Family Islands are somewhat slow, so they are coming in at a slower pace and apart from the normal unemployment assistance offered by NIB, 3,000 persons have applied for the special assistance given by the government in the touristic industry.
“And we are processing those and we have made payments so far to most of those individuals.”
Noting that officials have made progress to expedite the claims, Mr Rolle said he was satisfied with the efforts made by NIB workers to speed up the payment of much-needed benefits.
“You will recall that this process was just announced to us less than two weeks ago and we have made those payments to individuals in the major hotel companies,” he noted.
“I know we are having some slight issues in persons with smaller companies because their process is a little bit slower because some of them are not up to date totally.
“And so, based on what is happening in the process, I’m satisfied with the persons (who) are doing a great job at NIB to ensure that monies are on the grounds and paid to individuals as quickly as possible.”
Although much focus has been directed towards paying out unemployment benefits and assistance, NIB is still committed to carrying out its other obligations to the Bahamian public.
“NIB continues to process thousands of ongoing sickness, maternity and industrial injury benefit claims. Additionally, new applications for retirement and other pensions continue to be processed,” officials said in a statement yesterday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Mr Rolle added: “…We have advanced $20 million in pension payments for the month of April and the only islands that did not get the payments up to date is Grand Cay and Moore’s Island. And we are making those payments this week.”
Asked yesterday if the country can expect to see NIB utilising online platforms in the future, the minister replied: “Absolutely, I had some discussions with my director and she said ‘this is working and what are we going to do’ and I said to her, ‘that’s a good thing.’
“…We’re demonstrating that we can do this online. We are paying the big business directly so for example, we send the monies to Atlantis and Atlantis is just distributing it to their staff.
“We’ve asked individuals in the touristic sector for example, to go online, check our website and fill out the simple form that we have and we will then make an arrangement to pay for them.”
He continued: “We just want to make sure that we pay as quickly as we can and show the Bahamian people that we are there for them and hopefully, they will be there for us. This is an exercise where Bahamians would see the benefit of NIB and of being compliant and making their payments.”
As it relates to those workers whose employers have not paid their NIB benefits, Mr Rolle said NIB is still open to negotiations with those companies.
There have been numerous complaints from some employees in recent weeks, claiming that their employers have deducted but failed to pay their NIB contributions.
Speaking on the matter yesterday, Mr Rolle said: “We’ve taken the position that we’re going to negotiate with these companies. We’re going to reach out to them and have agreements signed with them, but the critical point is our clients, our customers will not be disadvantaged because our company did not pay.
“NIB has the capacity to go after these big companies and we will… but what we want to do is make sure that persons who need the funds can get it and we’ll do the back leg work to talk to these big companies who have not been up to date in their contributions.