By Matt Maura
Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for the National Insurance Board (NIB), the Hon. Myles LaRoda, told House Members Monday that the government- funded unemployment assistance programme has been extended to December 2021, with beneficiaries to also receive an additional lump-sum payment of $500 that will be paid in mid-December. The programme had been scheduled to end in September 2021. Mr. LaRoda said the estimated cost of this stimulus is around $6.5 million. “It is important to stress that only persons who are unemployed, or partially unemployed, earning less than $200 per cycle, that is every ten days, are eligible for the continuation of funding,” State-Minister LaRoda said.
“I have no doubt that these stimulus checks will provide Holiday Cheer for a lot of Bahamians during this Yuletide Season.” The extension was one of several announcements the State-Minister made in the House of Assembly Monday. Mr. LaRoda said the Board will be implementing new measures designed to increase access to a number of its client services -– particularly pensioners, those seeking unemployment benefits, and those submitting claims.
Mr. LaRoda said one view is to expand the number of locations the Board currently uses to service its customers/clients seeking the aforementioned services. The State-Minister told House Members that he has had discussions with new Board Chairman, Mr. Philip McKenzie, regarding the matter.
“Because we know the pandemic (COVID-19 Pandemic) has put us in a position where we are servicing fewer people at our (current) locations, it is the view of this government that we should then increase the number of locations for these individuals to collect their benefits or to submit claims,” the State-Minister said.
“I have received numerous complaints from pensioners and unemployment benefit seekers who speak to the fact that their situation is one of dropping information into boxes where they are not sure when they will be collected.
“People like to have that person-to-person contact where they believe that they are actually a human being and not just some envelope that was dropped off and so as we move forward, the intention of the National Insurance Board is to be more friendly, to be more willing to assist our individuals, some of them who travel long distances and are only able — in some instances — to travel when they have a ride either because of infirmities or an inability to move around. (As a result) they may have maybe one day a week and so if they are not served in that day, it is up to the next week which affects their benefits.”
Minister LaRoda said another initiative will result in “speeding up Smart Assistance.” “Not only must we work more expeditiously, but we must also work smart,” Mr. LaRoda said. “The COVID-19 Pandemic has taught us new ways of doing business: that the old way of doing business is something that we must adjust; and so National Insurance, as a service entity of the government, must also move with the times, move smart and allow our pensioners and benefit seekers the opportunity to receive better service.”