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Financial Assistance eligibility extended

Strengthening the safety net: Jason Hayward, the minister of labour (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Unemployed people will be able to claim financial assistance from government for up to seven years under changes agreed by MPs on Friday.

Legislators raised the cap on the amount of time people can claim financial assistance from five years to seven under the changes to the Financial Assistance Amendment Extension and Validation Act.

MPs agreeing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had ramped up the need to support jobless Bermudians.

Jason Hayward, the labour minister, told the House of Assembly that changes would be retroactive to cover payments since the start of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, said the One Bermuda Alliance supported the Financial Assistance Extension and Validation Bill 2021.

He added: “My biggest concern, and I am not saying it’s happening, is that a number of people might not be looking for jobs because they are comfortable with the safety net.

“I would like to see some type of contingency attached to the safety net.”

Mr Simons said he took the view that the best social support network was a job.

He called for conditions to be attached to ensure the unemployed were genuinely seeking work.

He spoke after Jarion Richardson, the shadow minister, asked for details on programmes for building skills to get the unemployed back to work.

Michael Weeks of the Progressive Labour Party defended the Government’s efforts to retrain Bermudians to get work, adding: “This Government is just reacting to the needs of the people.”

Lovitta Foggo, another PLP backbencher, said the move was “the responsible thing to do”, adding: “We are trying to make sure we keep everything on an even keel as best we can, so that we can take care of our people.”

Mr Hayward said that 10,000 people were made redundant as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic last year and that a “large number” remained “displaced from the workforce”.

He said: “Unless we begin to address the root causes of why some of our people are in this condition and are dependent on the Government, I don’t think it’s appropriate to mention that were ‘dragging’ anyone along the system.“

He said the legislation was urgent because “We’re trying to provide support for people in a climate where we have a deteriorating economic situation”.

Mr Hayward pointed out that financial assistance was based on an assessment of a household rather than an individual, and consequently, many applicants did not qualify. He claimed that, although 200 people were now claiming the benefit, more than 2,000 had applied.

He said that 100 current recipients and their families who would no longer qualify for financial assistance if the five-year ceiling was not raised.

He said: “It is our responsibility to assist in empowering individuals so that they can become independent.”

He said that training programmes – and a proposed minimum wage – would eventually reduce the likelihood of people claiming financial assistance for extended periods.

He told MPs that $125 million was paid out by Government for social support services each year.

“That’s no drop in the bucket,” he said.

“No one can accuse this Government of not caring. No one can accuse this Government of not supporting the families of this country.

“We’ve extended unemployment benefit. We’re now extending financial assistance. That is part of the ethos of this Progressive Labour Party government – supporting our people when they need it the most.”

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Published July 26, 2021 at 7:50 am (Updated July 26, 2021 at 7:50 am)

Financial Assistance eligibility extended

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