MPs pass first part of cost-of-living relief
Financial relief is on its way after MPs approved $5.8 million on Friday night to help workers and families struggling with rising prices.
David Burt, the Premier, said the money was part of a $15 million package that includes reductions in duty on petrol and diesel and the elimination of customs duty on unspecified essential foodstuff.
Mr Burt, also the finance minister, said the $5.3 million of the relief was made up of a $3.8 million payroll tax rebate for lower-income earners, $567,000 for school supplies for students in public schools and a $931,651 increase in the food allowance for people on financial assistance.
The other $500,000 will go towards the purchase of LED bulbs to be distributed to families.
Separately, Mr Burt tabled an order giving him as finance minister the ability to set duty rate for fuel without needing legislative authority. This will give the minister the power to set the fuel price at the February rate when it was frozen and will cost the Government $6.3 million this financial year.
Not before the House yet are duty reductions on foods which are expected to cost the Government about $3 million.
Mr Burt said the measures were designed “to provide relief to the people of Bermuda to address the increase in costs of living”.
He said the $15 million comes because of a Budget promise that half of any budget surplus over what was estimated in February would be used for relief for needy families and reductions in energy costs.
So far, the Budget is forecast to be $30 million ahead of forecasts.
Under the payroll tax rebate, people earning between $60,000 and $96,000 can apply for a $100 rebate, and those earning under $60,000 can apply for $250.
Mr Burt added: “Those who earn more can afford to pay more. It is very challenging to make ends meet if you earn less than $60,000 in Bermuda therefore we want to do as much as we can to provide assistance where it is most needed.”
• 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
• An estimated $500,000 for LED light bulbs for families to help cut electricity bills
• Increased food allowance budget for the Department of Financial Assistance
During questions Mr Burt specified that the only requirement for applicants is to be employed and paying payroll tax.
Diallo Rabain said that the Ministry of Education expected a 90 per cent take-up for its public school supplies package that will see every public schoolchild receive $150.
He said: “Many parents face a financial strain each year as they prepare for the start of the school year. There are 4,200 students enrolled in the Bermuda public school system, bringing the total amount to $567,000, which will be allocated for the fiscal year 2022-23.”
He added: “In the coming weeks, using the data we have in our Power School Data Base, parents and guardians will be contacted with more information on how to apply for this grant.
“It is critical that we have accurate contact information for parents and guardians.
“While the Ministry will be making public appeals in the coming weeks, I take this time to urge parents and guardians to log onto Power School to check that their contact information is accurate and up to date.”
Susan Jackson, an opposition MP, asked whether parents would be required to have their school purchases verified.
Mr Rabain said they would not, adding: “I don’t support that you are asking us to prove it – this will go a long way in assisting our parents”.
Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, questioned whether relief had been considered for home schoolers and private schoolchildren, and whether it was decided on a needs basis.
Mr Rabain said: “The funding we have in the ministry is allocated to students within the public school system. That has always been the case. If this is something that we can look to budget in future years and expand it beyond the reach we had but at the moment it will be restricted to public schools.”
The relief package includes a 15 per cent increase in the food allowance budget for the Department of Financial Assistance.
The department received a supplemental budget increase of $931,651. It will provide food assistance for those who are struggling to meet the cost of rising food costs.
Jarion Richardson, the Government Whip, asked how much the supplement would amount to per awardee, estimating himself that it would be an average of $47 per person per month.
Jason Hayward, the labour minister, said it was not as simple as dividing the funds equally as different individuals have different nutritional needs.
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, outlined a plan to spend $500,000 on providing 150,000 environmentally friendly LED light bulbs.
“One of the strongest themes in the Throne Speech of this administration has been that of reducing the cost of electricity,” Mr Roban said.
“Energy conservation is one area in which we need to make more effort and when we hear the words energy conservation we think of doing without or doing less. Energy-efficient appliances and fixtures are an excellent, no-effort means of conserving energy.
“We are seeking the supplementary for the purchase of 150,000 LED bulbs. That number is enough to benefit every household in Bermuda.”
He said if all 150,000 bulbs are used, the Government estimates that the public can save collectively up to $5.8 million in electricity costs.