Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Public Works Iram Lewis, Member of Parliament for Central Grand Bahama revealed that the Ministry of Works has received some 6,000 complaints regarding roof damages.
Updating media during a press conference in the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Conference Room, National Insurance Board (NIB) Building on the Post-Hurricane Government Assistance Program Monday (March 12) morning, Lewis said, “We were able to assess just over a 1,000 homes to date,” he said.
Lewis added that out of that number they have received, in terms of full compliance, about 550 applicants. Prior to that, up to November 2017, only 125 applicants gave their full compliance.
The program was designed to assist persons whose roofs were damaged as a result of the last few hurricanes to hit the island.
Hurricane Matthew struck The Bahamas in October 2016, leaving significant damage in its wake throughout the Northwest Bahamas. Islands, mostly, impacted by Matthew’s passage included New Providence, Grand Bahama, Andros, Abaco, Eleuthera, Bimini and the Berry Islands.
Hurricane Irma which came in September 2017, was the last hurricane to affect the island.
“The NRRU (National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit) is fully located, now, at the Ministry of Works and Utilities,” he disclosed.
“We’ve been begging the residents to submit their paper-work to ensure that we have full accountability, to ensure that we do not experience fraud. To ensure that the person owns the house that we are giving money to repair we’ve asked those homeowners to bring in their conveyance, in the absence of their conveyance we’ve asked them to bring in a sworn affidavit, just so we can verify and we’ve asked them to bring their passports, which is an official government ID,” he explained.
Toni Hudson-Bannister, Officer in Charge of the Ministry of Public Works in Grand Bahama, spoke about the required paperwork applicants need to submit.
She also brought some clarity to the program, specifically relating to Hurricane Matthew.
“You have to be a Bahamian to receive assistance and the only proof that we’re accepting is a passport and a voter’s card … that is it.!
“We are not receiving a National Insurance Card or Bahamian driver’s license,” she declared.
She added that persons would also have to show proof of homeownership and it has to be for the dwelling home where they currently reside, which would be the affidavit swearing that they have been in the home for an excess of 10 years or a conveyance, as well as a letter certified from an institute stating that the homeowner is still paying a mortgage on that home.
“The cut off point for applying for relief for Hurricane Matthew … that list has been closed for more reasons than one. It’s been a year since Hurricane Matthew passed and we’ve also had another hurricane that moved through the Island of Grand Bahama in that of Hurricane Irma,” she said.
She added that it would be difficult for technical persons to differentiate between what happened between both hurricanes.
According to Hudson-Bannister, persons were asked to apply for assistance through various agencies.
“They set up makeshift centres so that persons would be able to apply through their Districts and we also had persons that applied through their constituency offices. From all of those lists we received, a master list was created. That is the list that Mr. Lewis was speaking of earlier that exceeds 6,000 persons,” she said.
Hudson-Bannister added that some of those persons would have already received assistance from the previous administration and those persons will not be treated as a priority during this exercise.
“We have been mandated to follow rules, that includes reaching out to those persons who are elderly, disabled, unemployed, handicapped and then moving through to the persons that are maybe underemployed,” she noted.
Being underemployed is the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs, or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs.
Hudson-Bannister added that the files of persons not meeting this minimal requirement will be looked at in the latter part of the scheme of what she and other persons in the program are doing.
Lewis interjected that persons who gave full compliance were placed on a list of names which was sent into New Providence, where checks were cut and dispersed about a week ago.
He urged applicants to give their full compliance so that they can receive the assistance they need and for those who receive assistance to do the right thing and actually fix their homes.
“Fix your homes, make sure that they’re code compliant and by all means insure your homes; because based on the numbers that we’ve seen today, there’s no way that the government of The Bahamas would sustain such a program. These are moneys that we are spending that we can’t recover,” he said.
He commended the staff of the Ministry of Public Works, the department of Social Services and NEMA for their work with the small roof repair program.
Preston Cunningham, Administrator for the City of Freeport echoed those statements, noting that he has dealt with many homeowners coping with hurricane damage.
“I am pleased that the government of The Bahamas has seen fit to put together a kind of plan, where every person in need could be assisted. If you fail to do what we ask you to do, in terms of making available the paperwork with respect to ownership and the rest of it, hereafter you can only blame yourself,” he said.
Cunningham advised persons to take advantage of this opportunity without delay.
Tammi Mitchell, NEMA Warehouse Manager also reminded applicants that there are persons who will contact them directly to come into the office.
“There’s no need for you to come if you have not been called by someone from the Ministry of Works or somebody from the NEMA office to bring in these documents,” she said.
She also advised persons who already have home insurance not to apply for assistance.
“It is unfair for you to come to the Government of The Bahamas and say that you need assistance,” she said.
She added that it would hinder persons who do not have the means to repair their homes from getting assistance.