By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government will expand its unemployment assistance programme to self-employed people outside of the tourism industry, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced Monday.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, he revealed a number of planned measures to bolster workers who are struggling due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expansion for licensed self-employed persons outside of the tourism sector includes a Ministry of Finance initial budget of $5.9m.
The Department of Inland Revenue, he said, has 7,000 business owners on record that fall into this category.
Recognising that thousands more have been adversely impacted by the aggressive actions taken by the government to curb COVID-19 cases, they too will receive $200 per week for the length of the quarantine period which at present will last until April 8.
Previously, the government had only announced help for the self-employed directly connected to the tourism sector. This assistance is in the form of payouts of $200 per week for eight weeks.
Mr Turnquest said: “Today, I am pleased to advise that the government will expand this programme to other licensed self-employed persons who are impacted by the COVID-19 emergency orders.
“Given the aggressive actions taken by the government in the interest of public safety, these self-employed persons, outside of the tourism trade, are also facing the complete loss of income and the challenge of meeting their financial obligations.
“They too will receive a benefit payment of $200 per week for the length of the quarantine period which at present will go at least until April 8.
“For clarity, I wish to emphasise again that this benefit for self-employed persons outside of the tourism trade will be paid for a period corresponding to the period of the ongoing emergency orders,” the finance minister also said.
“NIB will administer this expansion. They will announce the related steps for these persons and applications for this element, which should begin by next Tuesday, April 7.
“The Department of Inland Revenue has indicated that there are just over 7,000 self-employed persons across the Bahamas who meet these criteria. The Ministry of Finance is budgeting an initial $5.9m to cover these additional self-employed persons impacted by the current lockdown.
“Like many other governments around the world, this administration is compelled to help its citizens through this very tough time. In this first instance, income support is vital to those whose primary sources of income have been eviscerated by the economic fall-out of COVID-19.”
Self-employed people seeking this benefit must ensure they meet certain requirements.
These include a valid business license issued by the Department of Inland Revenue and no additional employees. A sole proprietor with employees can apply for the government’s Small Business Continuity Loan programme.
The self-employed person must also provide a copy of their National Insurance Board card or other government ID with their NIB number.
They must not be in full time employment and thus eligible for other NIB employment benefits and they must be able to demonstrate active income from their related business in either January or February 2020. This could for example be in the form of a copy of a bank statement showing business related inflow for the month. This provision is to ensure that only persons with active businesses obtain consideration.
They must also either be registered as self-employed with NIB or become registered at application for this benefit.
See Tuesday’s Tribune for more on this story.