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Benefit payment delays frustrate residents

Social services agencies have seen jobless clients struggle because of delays to the delivery of unemployment benefits.

The Government's benefits scheme was launched four weeks ago as Bermudians felt the pinch after mass layoffs in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Martha Dismont, executive director of Family Centre, said the charity was aware of “people still waiting”.

But Ms Dismont said there was “probably a similar number of people who have not applied, because they don't believe they fit the criteria”.

She added: “We are grateful Government has worked hard to get money in the pockets of people who have been laid off.”

The delays were acknowledged on Monday by Lovitta Foggo, the labour minister, who said about 2,500 applicants had been left short.

She said some had been left “frustrated” and unable to reach anyone on the helplines provided.

Ms Foggo pledged that payments of $2.3 million would be issued yesterday, and that the Ministry of Finance had pulled out “all the stops” to reinforce the Department of Workforce Development.

Ms Dismont said most delays appeared to stem from “forms not being filled out correctly”.

She added that it was “critically important the Government had the wisdom to do this in the first place”.

Ms Dismont said: “When the minister mentioned she could see people not getting it, they had to dig in and see what the problem was.

“My hope is they will figure out a way to keep the benefits flowing.”

Ms Dismont said there were “nuances” to the criteria that had hit some candidates, such as the self-employed.

She added: “Some have not paid their payroll tax yet, which can happen if they can barely make ends meet.

“People need to keep their taxes up to date, or at least get in touch with the Tax Commissioner to say, here's my challenge, let me register.

“We suspect some people are getting cut out because they have not registered. It's a lesson.”

Ms Dismont said there had been “a learning curve” for legislators as well as the public.

She added: “We figure out how to work together when we are in a crisis.

“My hope is we can take this beyond Covid-19 and continue working together and being bipartisan.”

A Warwick senior said she knew of at least 15 people, who ranged from “taxi drivers to single mothers” who had applied for, but not received, benefits.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said she had been looking after a neighbour and also helped struggling people out of her pension cheque.

She added: “The thing that bothered me the most is that Government didn't plan this out properly. I've got one person 2½ weeks ago who got contacted and asked for her social insurance number, and she still hasn't received anything. I gave her $100.

“It's unbelievable. A parent called me last night and I said I would go out tomorrow and get her Pampers for her child.”

She said she had put people in touch with agencies such as the Coalition for the Protection of Children.

She also praised the grass roots group Open Your Heart, based in the West End, that had helped supply food to people in need.

The woman added: “I've always been out in the community volunteering, fostering, you name it. That's just who I am. I grew up in a poor environment, so this to me is a norm.”

But she added: “Our young people are not used to this. It's very stressful for them. I just tell them to keep their head above water. We have to look out for one another.”

Speaking out: Martha Dismont, executive director of Family Centre

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Published April 29, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 29, 2020 at 3:33 pm)

Benefit payment delays frustrate residents

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