By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday said the National Insurance Board’s (NIB) reserve fund “remains stable” at $1.6bn despite multi-million dollar COVID-related unemployment benefit payouts.
Myles Laroda, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for NIB, told Parliament during the supplementary Budget debate: “Never in the history of our social security scheme has the personnel operations or stability of the fund been tested for such a prolonged period of time, and under such extreme circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yet the Fund remains stable to meet short-term obligation with a total reserve at some $1.6bn. From the onset of the pandemic, NIB made unemployment benefits through four programmes: The unemployment benefit for Dorian survivors and the Government-funded Dorian extension programme; the NIB unemployment benefit; the Government-funded unemployment assistance programme for self-employed persons; and the government-funded unemployment extension programme.”
Mr Laroda added: “The Government-funded unemployment assistance programme for self-employed persons, and the National Insurance national unemployment benefit have ceased, with a final payout of 13 weeks of support provided through the National Insurance unemployment benefit.
“Great measures were taken to enter some 25,000 unemployment benefits claims into NIB’s administrative system. This represents approximately 70 percent of COVID-19 related unemployment benefit claims for The Bahamas.
“These claims were processed manually outside of National Insurance’s administrative system driven by necessity to expedite the massive number of COVID unemployment benefits claims submitted. That project is in the reconciliation phase. The estimated costs from October to December is $25m.”
The last estimate on how much was spent on the unemployment benefit scheme was $263m at June 2021. Mr Laroda said: “The NIB unemployment benefits for Dorian survivors, and the government-funded Dorian extension programmes and the government-funded unemployment assistance extension programme continues to support those workers who remain laid off.
“Today, the Government-funded unemployment assistance extension programme has paid out in excess of $190m to 34,319 persons.”
NIB is also expected to absorb an additional $6.5m in social assistance costs to help finance a $500 lump sum payment to persons still on unemployment assistance. Mr Laroda further warned: “It is important to stress that the only persons who are unemployed, or partially unemployed, earning less than $200 per cycle, that is every 10 days, are eligible for the continuation of funding.”