The Minnis administration will direct millions of dollars towards healthcare, social relief and other benefits for those directly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest announced today as he outlined the first phase of the government’s response to the health crisis.
He said an additional $11 million will be channeled to the health sector. Another $4 million will be allocated for food assistance and social support for impacted displaced workers.
Turnquest said $10 million will go towards temporary unemployment benefits through the National Insurance Board (NIB) for self-employed persons working in tourism industry.
He said individuals who contract COVID-19 or are quarantined will be eligible for sick benefits through NIB. The minister noted that Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) disconnections have been suspended and the government has directed WSC to reconnect those accounts that have recently been disconnected.
Additionally, he said WSC and Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) have been directed to defer payments for people who get COVID-19 or are laid off because of the crisis.
“This is not a free lunch for those not impacted,” Turnquest said.
The minister also encouraged people who fall on hard times because of this crisis to contact their bank to understand options available to them for deferred payments. Banks have stressed that clients who find themselves in trouble because of the situation to go into their financial institutions now to have a discussion.
Turnquest pledged another $20 million in short-term loan support for impacted small businesses.
He said businesses must have been in operation for at least one year in order to qualify.
In the meantime, he said the government will expand and accelerate training opportunities in the construction trade to support rebuilding efforts in Grand Bahama.
As it relates to borrowing, Turnquest said, “We have no plans to request additional borrowing at this time as we are diligently managing the country’s debt level.”
He added that the government has restricted all non-essential expenses, including travel.