National Insurance Minister Brensil Rolle.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government has extended its unemployment assistance programme for those still being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic until the end of April, National Insurance Minister Brensil Rolle said yesterday.
“The government assistance programme has been extended for another month. We are aware of the struggles that Bahamians are having consistently and we’re trying to resolve some of these issues,” Mr Rolle said before going to a Cabinet meeting.
“We are hopeful that things will get better and it’s looking a little bit better. Government has expended over $150m on this project so far and it’s roughly costing the government $12 to $15m a month and so, as soon as persons get back to work, we can divert those funds into some other area.”
Mr Rolle said those eligible for unemployment assistance will still receive $100 per week.
“We have been consistent with that amount since we’ve moved back from $150,” he said.
“We have not changed that but there (are) some industries and areas where individuals are getting something from their work programme and so we are only supplement(ing) the difference so that everyone in the programme will at least get $100 per week for the entire duration of the programme.”
To assist with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnis administration in March 2020 launched its unemployment benefits programme, among other initiatives, for self-employed people directly connected to the tourism sector and later expanded it to include self-employed people outside of the industry.
The programme was initially set to last year but has been extended several times to help those still left unemployed amid the health crisis.
Yesterday, Mr Rolle told reporters that officials have seen “a slight decrease” in demand since the initiative first began but noted “there are some individuals who may go to work but (have) a small level of support.”
Asked if the government plans to extend the programme on a month-by-month basis if the nation’s economy doesn’t improve by then, the minister replied: “I think we understand the struggles that Bahamians are having at this time and we are there to support the Bahamian people and we’re looking forward to providing whatever assistance is necessary for them and on a monthly basis, the Cabinet has been evaluating the process and as you know, the initial programme was to end in December but we have extended it so far up until April.”
The economic strain placed on NIB has raised concerns about the possibility of the agency’s contribution rates rising in the future, a question that has been previously put to various officials.
Asked about the issue again yesterday, Mr Rolle only reminded Bahamians to make their monthly NIB payments so the agency would not have “consider its funding and other issues”.
He said: “Those persons who are working should make their monthly contribution and if we focus on ensuring if persons make their contributions to NIB then there wouldn’t be a need for NIB to consider its funding or its cost and other issues but, it’s a situation where there are some sections of the economy and some individuals do not pay their contributions on time.”