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Helping Hand: Turnquest Extends Benefits Package To Help Self-Employed

Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.

Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Tribune Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

THE government will expand its unemployment assistance programme to self-employed people outside of the tourism industry, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced yesterday.

Speaking in the House of Assembly, the deputy prime minister revealed a number of planned measures to bolster workers who are struggling due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also painted a bleak picture of the future, adding that because of the “seismic halt” of the country’s tourism sector, the country may end up in a more dire condition if the COVID-19 crisis continues in the medium-term. Officials had earlier predicted an economic loss of $1 billion by mid-July because of the crisis.

He did not say what officials now project the longer-term fall-out to be.

The extension of aid to licenced self-employed outside of the tourism sector involves a Ministry of Finance initial budget of $5.9m.

The Department of Inland Revenue, he said, has 7,000 business owners on record who fall into this category.

Recognising that thousands more have been adversely impacted by the aggressive actions taken by the government to curb COVID-19 cases, they too will receive $200 per week for the length of the quarantine period which at present will last until April 8.

Previously, the government had only announced help for the self-employed directly connected to the tourism sector. This assistance is in the form of payouts of $200 per week for eight weeks.

Mr Turnquest said: “Today, I am pleased to advise that the government will expand this programme to other licensed self-employed persons who are impacted by the COVID-19 emergency orders.

“Given the aggressive actions taken by the government in the interest of public safety, these self-employed persons, outside of the tourism trade, are also facing the complete loss of income and the challenge of meeting their financial obligations.

“They too will receive a benefit payment of $200 per week for the length of the quarantine period which at present will go at least until April 8.

“For clarity, I wish to emphasise again that this benefit for self-employed persons outside of the tourism trade will be paid for a period corresponding to the period of the ongoing emergency orders,” the finance minister also said.

“NIB will administer this expansion. They will announce the related steps for these persons and applications for this element, which should begin by next Tuesday, April 7.

“The Department of Inland Revenue has indicated that there are just over 7,000 self-employed persons across the Bahamas who meet these criteria. The Ministry of Finance is budgeting an initial $5.9m to cover these additional self-employed persons impacted by the current lockdown.

“Like many other governments around the world, this administration is compelled to help its citizens through this very tough time. In this first instance, income support is vital to those whose primary sources of income have been eviscerated by the economic fall-out of COVID-19.”

Self-employed people seeking this benefit must ensure they meet certain requirements.

These include a valid business licence issued by the Department of Inland Revenue and no additional employees. A sole proprietor with employees can apply for the government’s Small Business Continuity Loan programme.

The self-employed person must also provide a copy of their National Insurance Board card or other government ID with their NIB number.

They must not be in full time employment and thus eligible for other NIB employment benefits and they must be able to demonstrate active income from their related business in either January or February 2020. This could for example be in the form of a copy of a bank statement showing business related inflow for the month. This provision is to ensure that only persons with active businesses obtain consideration.

They must also either be registered as self-employed with NIB or become registered at application for this benefit.

Mr Turnquest further announced assistance for Family Island administrators.

With airports closed, movement restricted, and income streams being disrupted, Mr Turnquest said many Family Island communities are feeling isolated and afraid.

The Ministry of Finance is therefore allocating $1.8m to support the Family Islands specifically to be used for any COVID-19 related expenditure. The new allocation is in keeping with the government’s commitment to reprioritise existing resources and to provide the necessary support to keep communities safe.

“The allocations for the different islands range from $10,000 to $325,000. The average allocation is approximately $76,000,” he said.

“Strict financial management protocols have been put in place to administer the use of these funds. Under no circumstances are the COVID-19 Emergency Order Budgetary Allocations allowed to be utilised for the normal, routine Family Island local and central government expenditures.

“This allocation will enable them to procure any COVID-19 related items, in line with the Ministry of Health’s guidance and protocols, to manage this pandemic at the community level. Unused amounts at the end of the COVID-19 emergency period are to be returned to the Treasury Department.”

In terms of the projected harm to the economy, Mr Turnquest said: “Our original economic estimates for the fall-out from COVID-19 projected $1bn in losses in our worst-case scenario. “Unfortunately, because of the complete shutdown of the tourism industry, the financial impact on the economy may end up being much more dire than this scenario if the threat of COVID-19 persists over the medium-term. There is no doubt about it, there are going to be very challenging days ahead for all of us.

“Based on the changing dynamics, we are working to revise our fiscal forecasts and to do so as quickly and as comprehensively as possible. This is an ongoing process. Our initial assessment was based on a four-month outlook to the end of the fiscal year. We are reviewing these projections in light of new realities as well as the new tax credit and tax deferral programme.

“We continue to work on longer term assessments, taking us into the new fiscal year and beyond. As is our practice, we will provide an update to the Bahamian people on what this new and evolving situation will mean for our fiscal outlook, with the full understanding that our priority remains first to ensure all necessary resources are made available to support the physical health and welfare of Bahamians and second, to do as much as we can to retain employment, and cushion the unprecedented economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 1 month, 4 weeks ago

They must also either be registered as self-employed with NIB or become registered at application for this benefit.

Is Turnquest saying here that someone who has been self-employed for years but failed to register with and make contributions to NIB can immediately start getting unemployment benefits by simply only now applying to become registered with NIB? That doesn't sound right!

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John 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Is Turnquest overstepping the boundaries of NIB? A self employed person who has become unemployed due to the corona emergency shutdown is entitled to unemployment benefits, regardless of how many employees they have or whether they get the small business emergency loan or not. That is if they are employed in the business. Remember the loan has to be paid back and does not replace lost income. And, in fact, it adds to the cost of doing business if it carries an interest rate.

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John 1 month, 4 weeks ago

And non-essential businesses may be like BPL when they finally get to reopen. Not only will a great decline in the demand for their goods and services due to most of the tourist market/economy being offline, but any persons who are still employed or just returning to work will not be able to afford these goods and services immediately as their funds will have been spent on food and emergency supplies. Then within a few months, they must prepare for hurricane season. And don’t expect the tourist market to come back before years end. A cruise ship with sick and dead passengers is still trying to get permission to dock in Florida.

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SP 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Are NIB and business license inland revenue offices functioning at all during the shutdown? How are people expected to apply for assistance?

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 month, 3 weeks ago

@SP - These are all good questions for your Supreme Ruler but you don't see him manning up like your nemesis President Trump who daily gives lengthy detailed press briefings immediately followed by even lengthier Q&A sessions in which Trump takes the lead role in responding to difficult but necessary questions put to him and his expert medical advisors by mainly hostile members of the news media.

Contrast President Trump with your own Supreme Ruler, who happens to also be a medical doctor, who seems not at all comfortable standing on his own two feet daily in front of the Bahamian news media and addressing important questions about covid-19 and his 'safety' orders to the Bahamian people.

The stark contrast between Minnis and Trump in leadership ability is quite telling and, frankly, now very scary for the Bahamian people.

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