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Unemployment benefit programme in the making

Government is said to be reviewing a framework to implement an unemployment benefit programme, which is cited as needed during this COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 and its subsequent challenges including 14,000 Grenadians being unemployed increasing the unemployment rate to 28.4%, led to calls for a permanent unemployment benefit programme to be a part of the benefits offered by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).   

In May, Director of the NIS, Mr Dorset Cromwell told this newspaper that the pandemic presented a fitting opportunity for consideration to be given to such a benefit, adding that throughout the years of the NIS’ public consultation with employees and employers, this has been one of the benefits asked for. 

He said then, “Certainly in this [COVID-19] period, I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to consider such a benefit because we paid an unfunded benefit after hurricane Ivan and we are paying another unfunded benefit during this period and we cannot continue to be taking monies from pension and other benefits and paying it towards a benefit that was not previously funded.”   

Finance Minister Hon Gregory Bowen told parliament during the 2021 budget presentation earlier this month that given the absence of a formal unemployment benefit scheme, Government plans to develop a formal contributory unemployment benefit programme to be administered by the NIS.

“As a clear testament of Government’s overall commitment to enhancing social protection systems and improving the delivery of social services, Cabinet has already approved a consultancy to design the framework for this programme,” he said.

Director Cromwell told The Grenadian Voice on Wednesday that the NIS contracted the consultancy services of Morneau Shepell – an actuarial firm based in Canada. This, he said was done in keeping with the NIS’ Public Procurement Policy.

The firm conducted a survey in Grenada to determine the level of acceptability of such a programme “and based on the report from the firm, the results were excellent, it’s a benefit people want and are willing to pay for,” Cromwell noted.

The Director said the NIS Board accepted the framework for the programme, which was presented by the firm. The framework was then presented to the Government via the Ministry of Finance and “We are aware that the government is reviewing the framework at this point,” Cromwell said, noting that the NIS Board awaits feedback.

The NIS is awaiting the legal go ahead to exhaust an EC$10 million payout of $330 per month to eligible beneficiaries in a temporary unemployment assistance benefit programme. The six-month programme ended October but has been extended to January 2021.       

Among the 14 existing benefits offered by the NIS are Age, Invalidity and Survivors’ Pension; Age, Invalidity and Survivors Grant; Sickness, Maternity Allowance, Funeral, Maternity Grant, Employment Injury, Medical Expense, Disablement Pension, Disablement Grant and Death Benefit.

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