Straw vendors and jet ski operators embrace COVID-19 benefit assistance

Straw vendors and jet ski operators embrace COVID-19 benefit assistance
Straw work on display at the Nassau Straw Market (IMAGE COURTESY OF WWW.BAHAMAS.COM)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Straw vendors and jet ski operators yesterday welcomed the the government’s $200 weekly unemployment benefit assistance as tourism industry stakeholders brace for continued fall-out over the global COVID-19  pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest told Parliament yesterday the government is allocating $10 million to provide for a temporary unemployment benefit.

The aid will be administered through the National Insurance Board, for self-employed persons working in the tourism industry.

He noted that self-employed persons, such as straw vendors, tour operators, jet ski operators, do not ordinarily qualify for the National Insurance unemployment benefit as part of their benefits package.

“However, the Government is making a special accommodation for those self-employed individuals in the tourism industry, given the unprecedented COVID-19 impact,” Turnquest said.

The Government will offer a sponsored unemployment assistance of $200 per week, for up to eight weeks.

To qualify, these self-employed persons must be currently registered with NIB or they must register at the time of application for this benefit. The time frame for this benefit may be adjusted according to need.

Renwick Rolle, proprietor of J R Watersports, has worked in the industry for 30 years.

“So far it hasn’t really hit us as hard yet,” he said

“I took seven persons parasailing today and there was also snorkeling boat with twenty people on it.

“There are jet skis going back and forth. I think as long as persons are coming in on the planes it won’t hurt as much. We have operators that operate from Breezes which is strictly cruise ship passengers and they are really impacted by this situation.

“Sandals still has people coming in as well as Melia and Baha Mar even though a lot of people canceled their bookings. We just have to hope and pray this thing goes away.”

As to the government assistance, Rolle said: “They don’t normally mention us. That’s excellent. It’s a surprise.”

Rebecca Small, vice president of the Straw Business Persons Society told Eyewitness News the benefit will provide “some help”.

“The money the government is proposing will be of some help. At least you can pay a bill. The money they give us will still go back to the government for rent. It’s depressing. For some of us who don’t have to pay a mortgage, there is still the light bill which can seem almost like a mortgage.”

Small called the COVID-19 situation “very concerning”.

“It’s very concerning but this is out of everyone’s control,” she continued.

“I was encouraged that the government is moving to assist. It is better than nothing. I thank God I have a supportive family but not everyone has that support system.”