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Financial Assistance pays millions of dollars to local businesses

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Local businesses and service providers have been paid almost $75 million by government on behalf of people on financial assistance,

And the Department of Financial Assistance’s payments to supermarket chains have been questioned by one of the island’s shop owners who said his business had yet to be offered a share.

But a spokesman for the department said there were no contracts in place with local businesses – and the supermarket receiving the bulk share of grocery spending confirmed this week that there was no agreement with the Bermuda Government on where the money got spent.

Seth Stutzman, the president of the MarketPlace group of stores, said there was no contract for more than $14 million spent at the grocery chain over the last three years.

Spending at different businesses added up to $74.6 million, with just over 19 per cent going to MarketPlace.

Mr Stutzman added that MarketPlace, along with its sister company Price Rite, had given a 5 per cent discount to Financial Assistance clients during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

It came after three years of Financial Assistance figures to specific companies laid bare, for the first time, the payments paid to local businesses and services on behlaf of the island’s needy.

A sample of Financial Assistance figures across three years

Belco: $2.6 million

Bermuda Diabetes Resource Centre: $211,300

Bermuda Gas & Utility: $12,800

Bermuda Housing Corporation: $5.5 million

Bermuda Mental Health Foundation: $402,400

Bermuda Waterworks Ltd: $22,800

King Edward VII Memorial Hospital $10,900

Lindo’s Family Foods $1.6 million

MarketPlace $14.2 million

Teen Haven: $103,900

Wedco: $143,800

As of this June, the Department of Financial Assistance, which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Labour, reported 2,289 clients – a figure that does not include recipients of its child daycare allowance.

The figures emerged after a supermarket head questioned how Financial Assistance contracts were awarded.

Supermarket owner Frank Arnold first queried the payments in December, saying he had been asking the Government to show what payments were allocated to which companies.

But a Public Access to Information request was needed to get a breakdown of payments from May 2018 to May 2021.

Mr Arnold said: “Who negotiates to give these companies millions of dollars, with nobody apparently accountable for it?”

He added: “How am I not getting in on it or having the opportunity? I would be willing to offer a discount for it.”

Earlier this year the Ministry of Labour declined to provide a breakdown of figures.

A spokesman said the ministry “cannot provide revenue details for businesses that are not usually available in the public domain”.

But he added: “Please also note that the Department of Financial Assistance does not have contracts in place with the vast majority of vendors.

“Individuals on financial assistance are free to choose where they go to collect their supplies.”

Lump figures provided for July 2019 to December 2020 hinted at the scale of the payouts: $8 million to grocery stores, $2.1 million to pharmacies and just under $500,000 to other businesses.

But a Pati request subsequently yielded figures covering supermarkets, pharmacies, rest homes, schools and charities.

Many of the figures cited appear modest: Casual Footwear, a Pembroke business offering speciality shoe sizes, occasionally appears for sums as little as $55 for one month.

The Department of Social Insurance racks up a mere $600 for the 36 months covered by the request.

But supermarkets top the financials with multimillion payouts for the three-year period, dominated by one chain.

⋅ Shopping Centre Ltd/The MarketPlace Ltd: $14.2 million:

⋅ Lindo’s Family Foods: $1.6 million;

⋅ Market Place Limited (Price Rite): $78,000;

⋅ The Garden Market: $7,300

Mr Stutzman said yesterday that MarketPlace had “a long history of supporting our most vulnerable community members”.

He added: “There is no contract.

“The MarketPlace pioneered the Financial Assistance card programme in collaboration with the Department of Financial Assistance many, many years ago.

“The FA Card programme is a card payment programme designed to give clients of Financial Assistance fast and direct access to funds for groceries, thus offering clients of FA choices for great value, healthy options, and convenient locations island-wide.

“We continue to help support this programme as it helps people in Bermuda who need it the most.”

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Published July 07, 2021 at 7:58 am (Updated July 06, 2021 at 9:32 pm)

Financial Assistance pays millions of dollars to local businesses

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