By Ashley Penn-Nixon
With thousands of Bahamians joining the unemployment line as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Insurance Board (NIB) has paid out $1.96 million to-date to cover the employment shortfall and is projected to shell out a total of $9 million dollars within the coming weeks.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis made the announcement yesterday during a press conference held in the nation’s capital to update the country on the COVID-19 fallout.
The nation’s chief said although NIB has been inundated with nearly 15,000 unemployment claims, some persons may not necessarily qualify due to certain restrictions.
“NIB processed over 14,600 unemployment claims; NIB has paid out approximately $7 million in unemployment benefits so far in April, 2020; NIB is currently working on an additional 5,000 applicants,” he said.
“This, however, does not include everyone, yet. Payments are still being processed for many additional workers across different employment categories. I can assure you that NIB is using innovative approaches, including working with employers to help speed up the process.”
Just last week, he said, NIB had to appeal to some large and small employers to comply with document requests which has caused some delay in payments to eligible workers.
Minnis added that NIB is an insurance scheme and the normal rules associated with benefit payments apply.
NIB has two programs from which affected individuals can receive financial assistance.
The first is the standard unemployment benefit for workers who contribute to the insurance scheme.
The second is a government-sponsored unemployment assistance program for self-employed individuals — a category of persons who are not normally able to receive unemployment assistance from NIB.
Unemployed workers and closed businesses can benefit from the assistance that the economic stimulus measures have set in motion.
The prime minister said due to the government’s awareness of the hardship many residents are facing as a result of the effects of COVID-19-related unemployment, a separate unemployment assistance program will be administered to suit the needs of self-employed workers.
“NIB is also administering the government’s special unemployment assistance program for self-employed workers. This is giving thousands of Bahamians, who ordinarily are not able to claim benefits, paycheck support for an eight-week period,” Minnis said.
As of Friday, of the 5,592 self-employed applications NIB processed, 3,400 have been approved.
NIB has shifted its manual operations to its online platform to allow cashless forms of payments.
The prime minister commended NIB’s swift efforts to accommodate its claimants, amidst the overwhelming demand noting its benefits.
“This means Bahamians do not need to stand in lines to get money. They also do not need a bank account. Even if you do not have a bank account, you can receive money on your cell phone from NIB through its digital partner and use your cell phone to either redeem cash or spend the digital vouchers at grocery stores and other businesses to pay for items,” he said.
NIB is partnering with innovative Bahamian technology companies that are making mobile wallets available to Bahamians,” Minnis said.
The Ministry of Finance has allocated some $25 million to help small businesses with payroll support, while the government is set to borrow some $1billion to sustain the country as a result of COVID-19.
In addition, the Ministry of Finance has been coordinating with NIB, the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC), and the Department of Inland Revenue (DIR) to make sure money is getting into the hands of thousands of Bahamians in need.
However, despite the government’s efforts to address the unemployment crisis, affected residents stated their displeasure of NIB’s pace of their compensation efforts.
The prime minister assured that all efforts are being exhausted to ensure the process is expedited.
“I can assure you that NIB is using innovative approaches, including working with employers to help to speed up the process,” Minnis said.
Minnis also shared a major challenge that resulted in the delay of payments for some eligible workers.
“Last week, NIB had to appeal to some employers – both large and small – to comply with document requests, as this is causing some delay in payments to eligible workers,” he said.
“However, to date,” Minnis said. “NIB has received a positive response from companies, which is helping to move many more payments along.”