While he did not outline any specific plans for Grand Bahama in his 2021 national address, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Minister of Finance, did reveal that the government’s unemployment assistance support, and food assistance will continue until the end of this month, and the end of March, respectively.
Outlining a number of initiatives, the government implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the debilitating impact it has had, and continues to have on the Bahamian economy, he noted that small businesses are part of the heart and soul of the Bahamian economy.
“To protect nearly 4,500 jobs in the small business sector, $47.3 million, was made available for small business grants, and continuity loans, through the Access Accelerator, Small Business Development Center.
“The government provided $45.5 million in unemployment support, administered by the National Insurance Board (NIB). This included the extension of NIB’s existing benefit programs, as well as, support for Bahamians in the hospitality sector, and self-employed individuals.
“This has been the largest distribution of unemployment benefits in Bahamian history. The government brought together the major food aid organizations and funded the largest food distribution effort in Bahamian history,” said the nation’s chief.
He added that $17.2 million in food support has been spent between March and October 2020, providing for approximately 100,000 people to date.
“While we note the decline in new COVID-19 positive cases, since its peak in the summer months, we are also painfully aware that it will take time, to rebuild our economy, and to restore livelihoods.
“To ensure that Bahamian families continue to be supported as the economy reopens, and Bahamians return to work, my government, has pledged to continue the unemployment assistance support, to the end of January 2021, and food assistance, to the end of March 2021.”
Dr. Minnis furthered that throughout the entire pandemic, his greatest priority during the pandemic was to save and protect lives, and, while the disease has left many families struggling to survive, he expressed his pleasure in seeing countless Bahamians come together in a spirit of unity and resiliency.
“COVID-19, has interrupted our Bahamian way of life, with thousands of Bahamians still out of work. Tourism came to a near halt during the first wave, leading to hotel closures, and the complete shutdown of our cruise industry. This extraordinary global crisis has required us as a people, to summon our greatest resolve.
“I am very proud of the many, many Bahamians, who worked together in a spirit of love and unity, and who have followed the public health guidelines, for nearly a year. The emotional toll of this pandemic, has been overwhelming and painful.
“Thankfully, because there are now successful vaccines for COVID-19, our country, and our economy, are set to reopen more fully in the months ahead,” expressed the PM.
He continued by stating that the end to the dreaded disease is in sight.
“Restrictions will end. We will get back to our way of life. Jobs and the economy are coming back. Last month, some hotel workers returned to their jobs. However, we still have a few more months to go, especially as the pandemic continues to rage, in countries all around us.
“Our main priority during this pandemic was to save, and to protect lives, which is still my greatest priority. The pandemic caused many in our country to be confronted with difficult decisions.
“Many have had to spend their savings. Many hard-working Bahamians needed the assistance of their government.
“Just as my government was determined to save lives, we are just as determined, to help those of us in need.
“To support our fellow countrymen, your government spent over $177million through the end of October 2020, on our comprehensive COVID- 19 response,” the PM said.
“The closure of much of our economy, caused an immediate financial shock, to many families. To help to support businesses and workers, we offered $44.4 million dollars, in tax credit/tax deferrals, which funded the payrolls for nearly 7,000 private-sector employees.
“Further, to help boost our public health care facilities, in order to protect, and to save lives, the Government provided $20 million dollars in contingency funding.
“These funds, covered the cost for medical equipment and supplies, ensuring suitable quarantine facilities if needed, and other measures, to ensure the country was equipped, to combat the spread of the virus,” he said.
Additionally, Minnis informed the country that he has appointed the COVID-19 Vaccine National Consultative Committee.
“The primary purpose of the committee is to advise the Ministry of Health, in support of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.
“This committee is chaired by Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, OD, CMG, and is made up of public health experts, and representatives of various sectors, including, religious and community leaders.
“Government officials will report at the appropriate time, on the roll out of a vaccine in The Bahamas,” disclosed the nation’s leader.