NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The National Insurance Board (NIB) is bracing for a ‘major draw down’ on it resources to the tune of at least an additional $16 million per month amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Minister of State for the Public Service and NIB Brensil Rolle said yesterday, funding to provide unemployment assistance to thousands of Bahamians has exceeded budgeted expenditures.
Rolle told Parliament yesterday, “NIB’s executive team are ever mindful of the toll this COVID-19 health and economic crisis will have on NIB’s financials.
“Benefit payments were already outstripping contribution income since 2016. After just feeling the effects of Dorian, the Board now has to brace for major draw down on its resources to the tune of at least an additional $16 million per month above expected budgeted expenditures.
He continued: “NIB has prepared for increased sickness benefit payouts as a result of quarantines and isolation, and has created a process with the COVID-19 hotline and the Ministry of Health to substitute for the doctor’s forms. NIB’s Executive are constantly monitoring the liquidity of the fund to ensure that NIB can meet its obligations in the least disruptive manner for the markets.”
Rolle noted that NIB has received some 18,000 emails with claim forms and other information to process, adding that NIB has organized 60 persons to register these claims and to organize the documents submitted by employers and their employees. He noted that NIB currently processes between 6,000-7,000 unemployment benefit applications in a year.
“NIB has had to innovate, so it concluded special arrangements with companies to pay the Unemployment benefit on NIB’s behalf to their eligible laid off workers in two week segments,” he said.
“For many of these companies they will receive a contributions payment credit based on the amount that they would have paid to eligible staff. NIB’s core goal is to pay people quicker. NIB encourages other organizations to also make similar payment arrangements.
“Through other special arrangements, NIB will be paying almost 9,500 persons their (unemployment benefit) claims this week at an estimated cost of $4.5 million for 2 weeks of unemployment benefit in the coming days, once the agreements have been concluded and the claims have been audited.”
Rolle said: “We are advised that the audit process is near completion, so payments should be dispersed early this week. NIB has 20 large companies in the process of using this innovative method which will ensure that persons get paid as soon as possible.
“NIB anticipates that 14-15,000 claimants can be handled through these arrangements.”
Rolle said these special arrangements allow NIB’s staff to focus on those unemployment claims from companies which are not current with their contributions.
NIBs staff are working with these companies to submit or update their C-10s so that their former staff can qualify for the unemployment benefit. NIB assures customers that notwithstanding their former employers’ arrears, they can still be eligible for the unemployment benefit.
Rolle also noted that NIB has received over 2,600 applications from self employed persons in the tourism sector up to last Friday according to Minister of State for the Public Service and National Insurance Brensil Rolle.
With tourism and international travel having come to a standstill as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnis administration introduced a new unemployment assistance programme for self employed persons, in the first instance, in the tourism sector.
Rolle explained that NIB’s IT department was able to develop a new online programme to receive applications and adjudicate them, with senior staff from the Central Benefits Department assigned to adjudicate these claims.
Rolle said NIB made the first tranche of payments to recipients of the Government Unemployment Assistance Programme for self employed persons in the Tourism Sector on Friday.
The first tranche for those impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown was in the amount of $555,893.66.
Rolle said: “Payments in the amount of $440,006.20 were made to 1,192 people via Direct Deposit.
“Additionally, cheques and alternative payments are being run for 302 people totally $115,887.46 who did not have bank accounts or provided incorrect banking information. NIB advised that where the recipient is in receipt of a pension, the weekly amount is deducted so that no more than $200 per week is paid to the individual for income support.”
Of some 2,666 applications for the programme, Rolle said 1,494 were approved and 943 were denied due to insufficient documentation.
“The remainder is still being processed,” he said.
“ The majority of applicants supplied banking details to facilitate direct deposit payments. Persons who have had their applications denied, can reapply by attaching the necessary documents to the email notification received and their applications can be reconsidered.
“NIB is mindful that some Bahamians do not have bank accounts. In this regard, NIB is concluding arrangements with money services business to enable digital payments of funds to reduce the reliance on cheques and face to face cheque distributions.
Rolle said more details will be released this week.
He said NIB will open its application process to other self employed persons outside of the tourism sector who were impacted by the mandated shutdown, today.
These persons he noted will need to be registered with NIB and have a valid Business Licence.