Public Cry For Unemployment Benefit Gets Louder

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While the Social Security Board (SSB) has been getting community flack for being unable to offer unemployment benefit to residents of the Territory, members of the SSB management and Board announced that they did attempt to solve this problem long before COVID-19 crisis but various administrations were uninterested. Now the Social Security Board said that it is doing what it can now and looking for future solutions.

The SSB top brass which includes Chairman Ian Smith, Director Antoinette Skelton and Deputy Director Jeanette Scatliffe-Boynes during an interview on JTV explained that they are aware of a public cry for unemployment benefit. However, both the Chairman and Director explained that this was not legally possible.

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 donations 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, “We have to keep in mind 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.”

“When I say the future when we went home for the shutdown one of the things I took home with me to work on was the last study that was done.” This study was done by staff at the Health Economic Desk of the University of the West Indies on Unemployment Benefits. That is something that I am working on now. I took that document home so that I can look to see what has changed between when that was done and now,” Skelton added.

Governments Were Approached Over the Years

Meanwhile, Chairman of the SSB, Ian Smith explained that the Board, although it cannot provide unemployment benefits, found a legal workaround of the situation to contribute to those who are in need. He said that this was done through the social donation option the organization has.

 “We did a donation this morning (Friday 3 April) to Family Support Network and that is going to assist needy families and unemployed individuals. As well as we donate to the Social Development Department and some of the other nonprofit organizations so technically when you look at it, while it is not true unemployment insurance we facilitated…” Smith mentioned.

He noted that this matter was something the Board tried to get in front of over the years but was unable to do and now the need is very evident. “The issue of unemployment has been raised with successive administrations and we have studies that were done in terms of what’s 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.”

Over the last few weeks from legislators to businesspersons have all called on the Social Security Board to give some sort of payment to persons facing hardship as a result of the lockdown. The cry was picked up by the public and it was mentioned that the Board has millions of dollars that can be used.

Planning must always bear in mind the unexpected

However, in firing back at this assumption Smith stated that this was not necessarily so. The SSB Chairman said, “In terms of a lot of persons – not because you are saying well the figures — Social Security has X amount of money. That money is for us when we retire – for this generation, the next generation, it’s for perpetuity so we can’t just look for immediate gratification at this time.”

Even though during COVID-19 issues Smith said that the Board is trying to find a better solution. “I and the investment manager Mr. Fraser engaged the government and actually discussed 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 said that this discussion also included a revisit 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 a lot of persons were asking about unemployment benefit at that time being done behind the scenes,” he said.

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