Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson confirmed this week that there have been a few incidents of possible abuse of the Government funded unemployment benefit, resulting in workers who are not eligible for the subsidy being paid, while others are still waiting.

But he said the vast majority of cases are entitled to receive benefits.

Responding to questions by TNN on abuse of the new system, involving workers who had already left the island, who received benefits.

Speaking at the COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, the Minister said he was aware of a case where a submission was sent inadvertently rather than as a deliberate attempt to subvert the system.

“I think you said that there may have been a few instances of this happening, I’ve been made aware that an employer mistakenly submitted applications for a couple of their employees,” said Minster Dickinson.

“I think we have, based on the majority of information that we have and in our data base, done a good job of ensuring that only persons who are on-island are actually receiving the benefit.

“In as much as three or four people may have slipped through the cracks we’ll work to fix that, but by and large I think we have done a very good job validating the persons who are entitled are actually receiving the benefit.”

Photo Courtesy of TNN

But just how many cases of abuse they have on record remains to be seen.

Earlier, the Minister said $22 million in funds had been distributed thus far to those left unemployed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Some 7,000 applicants would be receiving further payments this week totaling around $7 million, he added.

He also noted that the new unemployment benefit system was instituted on the fly in a short space of time, reinforcing the Government’s commitment, ability and efficiency toward serving and caring for the country, residents and the island’s workforce.

“It has been several weeks since the Government passed legislation on March 24th to provide unemployment benefits to those impacted by COVID-19 related job losses. In a very short time leading up to (and during) the Shelter in Place Order, we architected and implemented a new system from scratch, and collected an unprecedented number of applications from individuals and employer,” said Mr. Dickinson in a prepared statement.

“Unfortunately, necessary details – required to ensure entitled individuals only were receiving benefits in accordance with the regulations – were either missing or inaccurate in a large number of applications, resulting in many failed payments and ultimately in delays in receiving badly needed benefits.

“Over the last couple of weeks, much of this has been cleaned up, and significant improvements to the system have been implemented. Resolving a lot of the initial challenges has not been an easy task, and the team deserves a lot of credit for answering the call and working hard to deliver benefits to a large number of people.

“This week we are paying benefits to over 7,000 applicants, totaling approximately $7 million. Including this week, the program will have paid an aggregate of approximately $22 million in benefits,” he said.

“I am happy to report that over 500 individuals that were receiving benefits have returned to work and informed the Government. I want to remind everyone, both employees and employers, that you must report the date are returning to work immediately to the Department of Workforce Development.”

The Minister added that he is in the process of establishing a COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee to navigate the island through this global crisis with input and advice from all stakeholders in the community.

“I can confirm that the terms of reference have been drafted and the first meeting will be held next,” he stated. “At this meeting, the terms of reference will be reviewed by the Committee and ratified,” said the Minister.

“The role of the Committee is to provide insight and expert advice on how to protect jobs and stimulate economic activity during the economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective of the Committee is to assess and recommend prioritized impactful strategies for the short, medium- and long-term economic recovery from the crisis.

“More specifically, the Committee shall: Solicit and obtain information and ideas from a broad cross-section of the community and all sectors of the Bermuda economy about the functioning of the economy and potential recovery initiatives.”