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Short-term relief for financial hardship approved

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Youth, Social Development and Seniors (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Parliamentarians yesterday approved legislation intended to offer short-term relief for people who find themselves in unexpected financial trouble.

The Financial Assistance (Short Term Relief Benefit) Act 2024 will allow a $1,500-a-month support payment for up to three months per fiscal year in the event of a sudden hardship.

Applicants can qualify after showing evidence of need from scenarios ranging from natural disasters and public health emergencies, to loss of work, domestic violence and the death of a household member.

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Youth, Social Development and Seniors, said the legislation was not intended to provide long-term support and compared it to the supplemental unemployment benefit paid out when the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were felt.

Applicants must also be 18 or older and have Bermudian status or be the spouse or guardian of someone who has Bermudian status.

In the case of those who apply after losing their job, Ms Furbert said that the reasons for termination would be “highly scrutinised” with those fired for misconduct or gross misconduct being ineligible.

She added that detailed checks would be made to ensure that no more than $4,500 is paid to a person in a single year.

Ms Furbert told the House of Assembly: “While the $1,500 is not meant to pay someone’s whole mortgage or pay all their bills, it’s definitely a help in time of need.”

She noted that soon after the Bill was tabled, six people contacted Financial Assistance to apply for the benefit, which is not yet in place.

“This is indicative that there is a live, present need,” she said.

Susan Jackson, the Shadow Minister of Transport, said it appeared the Financial Assistance team had put in a lot of time and effort to formalise the unemployment benefit scheme to create the short-term benefits, which she believed could help many in times of need.

However, she questioned if enough was budgeted for the programme with reports of businesses closing and others experiencing redundancies.

She also said that the Government needed to manage expectations if it took some time for recipients to receive the benefits.

Ms Jackson added: “We need to manage that so our clients don’t become emotionally charged.”

She also noted that accident victims were not listed as eligible recipients and argued that they had every right to receive the relief package.

Derrick Burgess, a Progressive Labour Party MP, argued that accident victims would be eligible for the relief should they qualify under the criteria in the Bill.

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, said the Government learnt much from its experience supporting the public during the pandemic and the legislation had put those lessons to work.

He told MPs: “We understand that sometimes circumstances beyond all control do come upon people and they need to have help.”

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Published June 15, 2024 at 7:58 am (Updated June 15, 2024 at 8:22 am)

Short-term relief for financial hardship approved

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