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Benefits extended for those who have hit seven-year limit

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Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Jarion Richardson, One Bermuda Alliance deputy leader (Photograph supplied)

Those whose financial assistance has ended after seven years in the system have been thrown a safety net of an extended period of benefits.

The provisions were made with the passing of the Financial Assistance Amendment Act 2023 in the House of Assembly on Friday night.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, said the legislation will allow for a subsequent award for eligible, able-bodied recipients whose initial seven-year term has expired.

The benefits will allow for ongoing yet reduced benefit allowances of a standard room rate, a food allowance and health insurance coverage.

“It is in the best interest of society,” Mr Hayward said.

In 2020, regulations were amended enabling recipients to remain in the financial assistance programme for two years on top of the five years previously afforded, mainly owing to challenges arising from Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Hayward said: “As of March 31, 2023, there were 124 able-bodied recipients on financial assistance. It was determined that approximately 19 recipients had reached their seven-year term and, as a result, the current awards are extinguished.

“To avoid further hardship for these recipients, this amendment will allow them to access a new subsequent award.

“Subject to them meeting all the eligibility requirements, this subsequent award will provide a standard benefit to assist them in meeting their basic needs. There are certain conditions the director may impose.”

To be eligible for the award, the recipient will be required to enrol in a volunteer programme approved by the director for a minimum of 20 hours per week, or they may enrol in a full-time or part-time skills development programme at the Bermuda College, for no longer than one year from the commencement of the award.

Recipients may be eligible if they complete a minimum of two skills development and assessment programmes offered at the Department of Workforce Development not exceeding one year from the commencement of the award or take part in additional development programmes not exceeding a year.

All recipients will be referred to the department, where staff will ensure they have a personal employment plan.

The director is able to impose penalties on recipients for failing to comply with eligibility requirements — a subsequent award can be revoked or suspended, but recipients have a right to appeal.

“It is the humane thing to do,” Mr Hayward said. “The new award demonstrates government’s unwavering support for the vulnerable.

“This is an initiative that this government is proud to be bringing forth today. It is fundamentally important to the lives of many in the community. It increases social protections with an aim to increase labour protections and improve quality of life.

“What we desire is that people can live independently of our government. We want a social protection system that rewards work. This empowers individuals.”

Mr Hayward said Bermuda’s economy has exceeded pre-pandemic levels, that jobs totals on-year are increasing.

Jarion Richardson, deputy Opposition leader, highlighted that the amendment reduces the amount of benefits that recipients can receive after their seven years has expired. He asked why it was limited to the three benefits.

Mr Richardson also asked how the Government could rationalise the cost of job and career training when able-bodied persons, after seven years, cannot be gainfully employed.

Susan Jackson, Shadow Minister of Transportation, asked how further progress can be made.

She emphasised it was important that people do not become overly dependent on government social services rather than finding their own economic empowerment and prosperity.

Nevill Tyrrell, PLP MP, said while he was confident Mr Hayward was well qualified to answer the questions posed, he wished to outline how the system will move forward. He said: “We will continue to listen to the people. If necessary, the minister will bring another amendment.”

Mr Hayward said the Government was taking a “human-centred approach”. He said: “You may not receive all you have received for the past seven years. However, I will ensure you are supported with food in your stomach, I will ensure you have adequate healthcare. I will ensure you that you have a roof over your head and have the employment services to assist you to get employment.”

He added that all 19 eligible for the award may not require it, saying he was aware of at least one who had achieved gainful employment.

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Published June 05, 2023 at 7:54 am (Updated June 05, 2023 at 7:32 am)

Benefits extended for those who have hit seven-year limit

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