By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas Federation of Retailers (BFR) co-president yesterday charged that the National Insurance Board (NIB) is not paying unemployment benefits to all approved applications.
Tara Morley told Tribune Business: “Almost none of us have received for our employees NIB payments, so our employees are begging to come back to work but we are not being allowed to open our doors. It is their money they have been contributing to NIB for years and they are not getting paid.”
She added that some Federation members have informed her most employees filed for the NIB unemployment benefit from March 20, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Some had even closed their stores the week before “because certain of our members felt it was their responsibility to society. They closed down even before the government mandated it because all of us want to respect the health of the nation”.
“Where is that $28m worth of NIB payments going? Because it is not going to the small business owners,” said Ms Morley. “I can tell you that some of the larger businesses of our membership, those are the only ones that I know that their employees have received their benefits.
“I’m not saying nobody has received the benefits, but it tends to be the larger companies. So where I have smaller members that maybe only employ five persons, and even with the members where they have ten different boutiques, I can tell you that out of our ten companies we have 45 employees. Only two out of the 45 have received the benefit, or if we have 21 employees only three out of the 21 have received the benefit.”
Ms Morley added: “So the system is not working. I understand that they are overwhelmed, but they need to adapt the system to cope with all of the applications they are getting. There is another article in the paper yesterday saying that they have thousands of more employees filing for unemployment benefits, but some of ours from March 20 have not received theirs.
“The story for us is that they keep on saying all of your paperwork is in order, we can confirm that we have everything, and you should be getting paid at the end of the week. You call at the end of the week, the money still didn’t go in. Then they tell us to resend them the documents again and then you get another confirmation, and they say all of your paperwork is in order and you shouldn’t have an issue and your employees should be paid by the end of the week.”
Dr Nicola Virgil-Rolle, NIB’s director of NIB, yesterday responded: “All who have come through the system, we pay those. We are using every tool in our tool-kit in order to pay people as quickly as possible. But everyone realises this is an unprecedented event. We normally process 7,000 claims in a year, and we had to do 26,000 in two months. We use every approach we can use to get them through.
“It’s the same process we use for our many applications that come in. I guess these are done using the D3 system, where we have to check, obviously, for eligibility requirements for the persons, and then we will pay those that meet that.
“So I am not sure what the situation is there. We have already paid 26,000 persons using the process and so we have many more to go. So it is a matter of making sure we make progress with those that are outstanding. We have invited all employers who gave over 10 workers to submit to us using the expedited approach, or the work around. It has worked well for many and we continue to invite employers to do the same thing.”
Ms Morley added, though: “You can send your documents to them 12 times in a row and they confirm that all of your paperwork is in order. They would say to us sometimes that the paperwork for 24 of your 25 employees is good, but I need additional information for your employee 25. You then chase the information for employee 25, they confirm receipt of and then everyone is set.
“But if then if somebody is signing off and confirming that all of your staff have their paperwork in order, and our company has the paperwork in order, and every week you have to reconfirm that all of your paperwork is fine, and they have to ask you for the same paperwork again, then what are you doing with the filings? You are confirming you have received everything, and you have confirmed that we have been lined up for payment? What are you actually doing with that information?”
Neal Watson, owner of Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Centre, yesterday confirmed none of his employees have received their unemployment benefits. He said: “None of them have received anything yet. They have all put in their own applications but they had to come get the paperwork from us first. We have done this from last month some time. I would say most people would have had their paperwork in from about four weeks ago at least.
“The last person in my company to file was five weeks ago, because he had two weeks’ vacation time that he took first, so that’s why his went in late, so probably the rest of my employees filed some six or seven weeks ago.
“I don’t know anyone that has gotten it over here, but it’s not like it matters now because all of the shops are closed. But they should have at least got it by the time the shops open back up, so within two weeks’ time or on May 30 and everything opens back up so for sure, nobody has been able to work.”
Dr Rolle, responding to Mr Watson’s claims, said: “I haven’t heard anything about that. As I said, any company that wants to use the work-around approach that we have offered - and we have offered this in numerous communications in the press - are welcome to come and speak to us so we can pay their employees in batches, and we will work with the employers to do that. This is available to anybody who wants that.”