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Premier outlines $15m relief package

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Parents and guradians of public school pupils will receive money to help with school supplies as part of a $15 million government relief package (File photograph)

A $15 million economic relief package to help working families was announced by the Premier in the House of Assembly yesterday.

David Burt, who is also the Minister of Finance, said that financial support will be given to people with children in public schools and LED light bulbs will be bought by the Government and handed out to households to reduce energy bills.

Payroll tax rebates are expected to be offered to 75 per cent of the island’s workforce and more money will be made available to help to cover food costs for families in receipt of financial assistance.

Mr Burt told MPs: “Bermuda is an affluent society. But that affluence has created a society in which economic pressures make it increasingly difficult for many hardworking people to keep up.

“Legitimate aspirations are frustrated by runaway costs of basic items which are necessities for life in this community.

“The high cost of living creates circumstances which sometimes defy economic theory but create a reality which the Government has a responsibility to address.”

What’s included so far in the relief package?

• Payroll tax rebate of $250 for people earning less than $60,000 a year; and a $100 rebate for people earning between $60,000 and $96,000

• Support for school supplies at $150 for each public school pupil

• LED light bulbs for families to help cut electricity bills

• Increased food allowance budget for the Department of Financial Assistance

He cited his earlier Budget statement where a pledge was made that if the Government outperformed expectations, half of the savings would be used to provide relief.

Mr Burt told the House that original estimates for 2021-22 anticipated a budget deficit of $124.7 million and the latest revised figures predicted a $30 million improvement with a deficit of $94.6 million for the year.

He said: “In keeping with our promise to return half of the amount of any improved performance to the taxpayers in this country, the Cabinet, on behalf of this Progressive Labour Party Government, has approved a $15 million economic relief package to ease the burden on working families in Bermuda.”

Mr Burt explained: “I am pleased to inform this Honourable House that part of the relief package will include a payroll tax rebate for workers making less than $96,000, which makes up 75 per cent of Bermuda’s workforce.

“Individuals earning less than $60,000 annually will receive a $250 rebate and those earning between $60,000 and $96,000 will receive a $100 rebate.

“It is expected that by September applications will be made available where 75 per cent of Bermuda’s workers will be eligible to apply for their rebate.

“Once approved, the applicant will receive a direct deposit in their bank account.”

He said: “Also as part of the relief package the Government will provide $150 to parents and guardians for each student enrolled in public school.

“This payment is to assist with school essentials as we recognise the financial burden encountered annually when preparing to send children back to school.”

Mr Burt added: “As the father of two children who seem to be growing by the day, I know that last year’s shoes and uniforms may not fit in September.

“The Minister of Education will be sharing further details pertaining to the rollout of this initiative in the coming weeks.”

He told the House: “With this payroll tax rebate and school supply support, a family of four with two school-aged children can receive up to $800.

“We are determined to put more money back into the pockets of working families.“

The Premier said: “As part of this relief package, the Government will purchase and distribute LED light bulbs to families to assist in reducing their energy bills.

“It is widely known that the cost of energy in Bermuda is amongst the highest in the world and is a contributory factor to the country’s high cost of living.

“In response, the LED lights distributed under this proposal will use up to 85 per cent less energy which will help reduce the household energy costs for Bermuda’s families.

“The Deputy Premier will share more details about this investment that will reduce energy bills in August.”

David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mr Burt said: “Our fellow Bermudians who receive financial assistance are often seniors, differently-abled or those who have not yet found employment.

“They have themselves and their families to feed and support.

“These are our fellow Bermudians whose circumstances mean that they need help.

“This relief package contains a 15 per cent increase in the food allowance budget for the Department of Financial Assistance to provide more support to families in need of food assistance.”

The Premier earlier tabled in the House a supplementary estimate for this financial year, which he said will cover the payroll tax rebate, school supplies support, LED bulbs and an increased food allowance budget for the financial assistance department.

He added: “The relief package also includes an extension of duty relief on the importation of vehicle fuel to ensure the ongoing freeze in fuel prices at the pump.

“This extension will help families, taxi operators, fishermen, tour operators and local businesses.

“The amount of this relief for this fiscal year is estimated to be $6.4 million.

“The Customs Tariff Amendment Act that I will table in this Honourable House later today will grant the Minister of Finance the ability to vary the rate of vehicle fuel duty.”

Mr Burt said: “Many will say this relief package is not enough, and as a Government we get it. But it is also critical we balance being fiscally responsible while providing relief.

“This package is not perfect but it is a start and will make a difference in the lives of many Bermudians who want to know the Government is on their side and has their best interests at heart.”

He said further relief measures can be expected, including steps to reduce the prices of essential goods that many families buy weekly.

The Premier added: “In consultation with the [Cost of Living] Commission, the Government will reduce the duty on staple goods and ensure those savings are passed on to consumers.

“Part of this $15 million relief package includes a provision for this duty relief that will result in reduced prices for working families.”

He said: “It is important to reiterate that these relief items would not be possible without the increase in revenue received from the travel authorisation and tourism-related taxes.”