Government & SSB Explore Unemployment Benefits

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A means to enable some form of participation by the Social Security Board as it relates to the financial crisis that was wrought by the COVID-19 global pandemic will be examined by the government this week.

This announcement made by Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie comes after months of community calls for the Social Security Board to offer some sort of unemployment benefit to the residents of the Territory in the wake of widespread layoffs and paycheck cuts.

Hon. Fahie’s comments on the matter were made during a press conference that was held on 21 May. The Premier during that briefing acknowledged that the Board’s management mentioned that there were legislative changes needed for the SSB to be able to offer such benefits and he confirmed he would support such changes.

The BVI Leader mentioned that Government has been in talks with the Board on the matter: “We have sat down with Social Security and they told us that these things are there to be done, so we have responded to bring them forward now. We have attached whatever extra help that they need and we are bringing them forward now,” Premier Fahie disclosed.

Furthermore, the Premier explained that the decision and adjustment government has made in this area would be reflected in the Stimulus Plan delivered to the Territory on 28 May.

In early April following calls from the community for unemployment benefits from the SSB the management of the Social Security Board explained that its hands are tied at this time. This disclosure was made by Chairman of the SSB, Ian Smith, Director of SSB Antoinette Skelton and Deputy Director Jeanette Scatliffe-Boynes during an interview on JTV.

According to Skelton the law that outlines the dealings of the SSB does not provide for such a benefit: “The Social Security Board is a creature of law and the legislation says exactly what the Social Security can pay, namely sickness, maternity, old age, employment injuries, survivors, funeral grant and that is what the legislation says that we can do,” she explained.

The Director however noted that there are other means by which the Board can assist in this difficult time: “In addition to that there is some room in our budget for social donation but there is no provision in the law for unemployment benefits. I am not saying that is not something that we cannot look at in the future.”

She further explained, “What we have to keep in mind is that every benefit is costed. You have to contribute to get a benefit. When the actuary came up with the 8 ½ percent they had done the study and seen what percentage would be there to cover these benefits. There is no provision at all in the legislation, in any of the studies for unemployment benefits. So there is no way we can pay.”

In further noting the unfortunate position Chairman Smith pointed out that the Board tried to get in front of the matter over the years but was unable to do that and now the need is very evident: “The issue of unemployment has been raised with successive administration and we have studies that were done in terms of what is needed to be put in place for us to do unemployment insurance. The powers that be at various times have chosen not to pursue it and it was looked at as an additional cost on the populace but now we are seeing the importance of having that safety net for the Territory.”

Mr. Smith mentioned that the Board is trying to find a better solution: “Myself and the investment manager Mr. Fraser we actually engaged the government and actually had a discussion with the government about three weeks ago in terms of short term as well as long-term needs and goals and the different initiatives that Social Security can implement.”

The SSB Chairman also said that this discussion also included a closer examination of the unemployment study that was previously done: “We have been proactive and on the frontline engaging with the government. They are the ones who would be responsible for implementing the legislation. Similarly, we did this after hurricane Irma when many persons were asking about unemployment benefits,” he said.

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