Unemployment benefits payout nears $150 mil.

Unemployment benefits payout nears $150 mil.
NIB cheque distribution at the National Stadium.  (file photo)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Some $146 million has been poured into the domestic economy via unemployment assistance, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest, who noted that the National Insurance Board (NIB) had directly paid out some $93 million.

While addressing Parliament today, Turnquest said, “Under the unemployment assistance program to support self-employed persons who would not ordinarily qualify for the unemployment benefit under the National Insurance Board (NIB) benefit 7,115 persons have benefited to-date with a total of $15.4 million paid out, and into the hands of Bahamians.”

The government also funded a special extension of unemployment benefits for unemployed persons who had exhausted their standard NIB benefit.

“This programme is continuing its 13-week time period. There are 28,478 persons who have benefited from the initiative, with payments to date totaling $37.9 million,” said Turnquest.

He further noted that under the regular unemployment benefit scheme funded directly through NIB contributions, some 38,598 persons have applied to date.

“From its own resources, NIB has paid out some $93.3 million directly to those beneficiaries,” he continued.

“Combined, these programs have supported approximately 43,200 persons, and poured some $146.5 million into the domestic economy. Regarding food support, the government was allocating approximately $1 million per week to the National Food Distribution Task Force, which to date has assisted some 110,000 persons.

“Beginning last week, the Government increased this allocation to $1.3 million per week, given the increased demand for support. Data from the Department of Social Services indicates that to date, approximately $11.9 million has been disbursed through the task force to participating non-governmental organizations, who have been working tirelessly to assist those in need.”

Turnquest said that although lockdowns and curfews are effective in flattening the curve of the pandemic it has had a “significant dampening effect” on government revenue which came in at 77 percent of the budget projection for the first two months of the fiscal year.

“Although partial and complete lockdowns and curfews are effective in flattening the curve of the pandemic, and have been a necessary response in the interest of saving lives, early performance indicators for July and August clearly demonstrate their significant dampening effect on revenue receipts,” he said.

“For the first two months of the fiscal year, total revenue came in at approximately 77 percent of the budget projection for the related period, largely reflecting the slowdown in economic activity in August, as a result of the lockdown.”

He said: “As for expenditure, since June, we have seen the expected ramp up in spending related to unemployment support, food assistance and other forms of emergency relief, in line with budget expectations. The first two months of the current fiscal year also show that expenditure was slightly higher than anticipated. As a country, we cannot readily afford more protracted lockdowns without significant and painful adjustments to the Government’s fiscal plan.

“We join all Bahamians in our desire to see businesses fully reopen and commerce getting back to normal. But as has been stated often, our ability to open fully and stay open will be dependent upon our collective effort and discipline in following the established COVID-19 safety protocols.”

With regard to the implementation of the government’s fiscal and economic plan, Turnquest noted that so far government has enforced the planned cut in non-essential expenditure allocations by 20 percent across all ministries so as to contain discretionary expenditure.

He said: “As part of our economic mitigation strategy, however, we have maintained critical expenditures in priority areas such as public health, social support, public infrastructure, small business support, and employment retention, including the retention of public sector employment levels. Public health spending has accounted for the largest COVID-19 related outlays to date, between last fiscal year and the current; it remains a priority focus and a core part of our fiscal and economic strategy.

“The government allocated some $35.2 million in the current budget to the Ministry of Health, to assist with the detection, treatment, and mitigation of COVID-19.”

Turnquest noted health-related COVID-19 expenditures, as of June 30, topped $10.8 million, including funds to set up and manage quarantine facilities, expand existing healthcare facilities, purchase protective equipment and other medical supplies, support the COVID-19 response in the Family Islands.