Dickinson: you will receive your benefits
Some workers laid off because of the coronavirus have yet to get unemployment benefits from an emergency programme that started in March, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
Several out-of-work residents vented their frustration yesterday because they have been stonewalled by helplines that do not work after six weeks without the promised payouts.
Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, said last night: “What I can commit to is, we've made four payment cycles and at each pass we've tried to go back to identify those instances in a payment cycle persons have not been paid. Those folks that have been unpaid have been the focus of us getting them paid.”
The 12-week programme was designed to give a maximum of $500 per week to people left without income by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Dickinson said that “a number of those who have not been paid” may see two or three payments going into their bank accounts later this week.
He pledged: “If you've been unemployed at the introduction of this programme, up through when you get re-employed, you will receive your benefit.”
A 66-year-old taxi dispatcher said she had gone the full span of the programme with “absolutely nothing” and had to be careful when she bought vital insulin for her diabetes.
The woman, who asked not to be named, pleaded: “If you don't qualify, can somebody please just let you know?”
She said she had encountered the same problem as others with helplines.
The woman added: “I get up to No 1 — then it cuts you off.”
She called on the Government to “just be honest and forthright” about the system's shortcomings.
The woman asked: “Am I just going to eat cereal to survive?”
A fellow dispatcher, who also asked not to be identified, said she had received nothing since she was laid off on March 19.
She added that only her daughter still got a paycheque and that she had six grandchildren to support.
She said: “I don't understand how some people have got two, three, four payments, and some haven't got any.
“They give you a number to call. Nobody answers. I do not know what to do at this point.”
Mr Dickinson said at last night's Covid-19 briefing that the benefits scheme was an initiative “started from scratch” that had dealt with an “overwhelming” volume of applications.
He added: “On top of that, you had persons who were unable to complete an application at the first try, who tried again and again and again.”
The finance minister had no figures on the number of people who had still not been given payments.
But Mr Dickinson said that over the past two weeks, he had brought in his own remediation team to tackle problems including identification of multiple cases, incomplete banking information, or where employers could not validate information for their staff.
Mr Dickinson said Department of Workforce Development staff were limited to read-only access to the files, while his ministry's team had worked on “remediating the data”.
He added that 10,000 applications for help included “double and triple counting”, which had hampered the process.
Mr Dickinson said: “We've worked really, really hard to make sure the majority of people have been paid. That work has been yeoman's work.
“Over 7,000 people will have been paid by the end of this week.”
Mr Dickinson, who admitted helplines had not worked, told people left out in the cold that they should e-mail their names, employers and social insurance details to firstname.lastname@example.org, “so we can pull your file”.
He added: “In delivering benefits to people, we had to do some things fairly quickly. Did we dot all the i's and cross all the t's? No. And that's what the last few weeks have been about — making sure that we haven't created any real harm.”