By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE National Food Distribution Task Force has received the go ahead from Cabinet to continue food assistance until the end of June, Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson confirmed yesterday.
The programme was initially set to end in August of last year but was extended several times to assist those still largely impacted by the pandemic.
This third phase, also said to be the final, was scheduled to come to a close at the end of March.
Asked whether the programme was continuing, Mr Johnson said: “It is my understanding that Cabinet has approved the extension through the end of June, that’s the end of the fiscal year.”
He said the Ministry of Finance has looked at prospects heading into the next financial quarter and made a determination that provisions could be made for the assistance to continue.
“That’s the responsibility of the ministry to make the provisions,” Mr Johnson said when asked how the government could afford to fund the initiative another few weeks.
“We looked at what the prospects were going into the next quarter and gauged the fiscal responsibilities and made the determination from there.”
However, Bahamas Feeding Network Executive Director Phillip Smith expressed some disappointment that the extension was not given for a longer period of time.
He has previously said the programme should continue at least until the end of September.
“I thought it should have gone until at least September,” Mr Smith told The Tribune yesterday. “But you know it’s something, until the end of June. I don’t know what you think but will most people be back to normal by then? That’s the question. I don’t know.
“I thought it should have gone until September, which again is conservative,” he added.
He estimated that by then, many now needing help with food should be returning to normalcy.
As it stands, Mr Smith said the need remains “dire”.
“A lot of people are in need,” Mr Smith said. “What I find is not a lot of people are certain and they are out of work. Everything is shut down. They need the money to go to the store. A lot of people are quite desperate you know.”
He also said: “it’s pretty dire. So, I am hoping they decide to extend for a longer period of time.”
The task force, which was created by the government last June, was established to render emergency food assistance to those most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, Mr Smith said many households were still grappling with hardship as he pointed to the need for a six-month extension.
The government has invested a total of $36 million into the food assistance programme.
The task force was granted $16m for the initial roll out of the initiative and another $10m for phase two. An additional $10m was allocated for the current third phase.