Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. K. Peter Turnquest explained how the Government is going to implement its fiscal and economic plan in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, September 9, 2020. “So far, we are enforcing the planned cut in non-essential expenditure allocations by 20 per cent across all ministries so as to contain discretionary expenditure,” DPM Turnquest stated as he presented his Min. of Finance COVID-19 Update Communication.
“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.” He said 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 DPM noted that 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.
“Actual health-related COVID-19 expenditures as of June 30 included over $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.” He explained that expanding social support continues to be a core part of the Government’s fiscal and economic plan. Hence, from the onset of the pandemic in the country, the Government quickly executed an expanded unemployment assistance program to support self-employed persons who would not ordinarily qualify for the unemployment benefit under the National Insurance Board (NIB) benefit scheme.
DPM Turnquest said this programme ran from late March to June and was extended in the 2020/21 Budget to run into the first half of the new fiscal year. He said to date, 7,115 persons have benefitted from this programme, with a total of $15.4 million paid out, and into the hands of Bahamians. The DPM said, “The House would recall that 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 totalling $37.9 million.”
He stated that it is important to remind the House that these outlays are not standard NIB benefits, but instead represent a special and targeted programme designed and financed by the Government to help address the vast economic dislocation caused by the pandemic. “For the information of the House, 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.” DPM Turnquest said, “Combined, these programmes have supported approximately 43,200 persons, and poured some $146.5 million into the domestic economy.”
He explained that 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. DPM Turnquest said, “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 organisations, who have been working tirelessly to assist those in need.”