Before the summer break, the Senate debated legislation that allowed the Government to extend the financial assistance payment limit by two years. In practical terms, the change allowed eligible able-bodied recipients of financial assistance to receive payments for as long as seven years, if needed.
Covid-19 has undeniably wreaked havoc on our economy, and it continues to hamper many peoples’ ability to make ends meet. There are some in our community who have had their incomes significantly reduced or have lost their jobs completely. Therefore, extended financial assistance payment limits, particularly at this time of global financial uncertainty and local instability, was in my view, the right thing to do.
During this pandemic, the extension will provide needed financial support for eligible persons who are unable to secure a job or earn a full paycheck because of business closures or a reduction of working hours. It will give them support until they get back on their feet.
While extending such support is needed during these most challenging times, Government must safeguard against unintentionally creating an environment that makes receiving financial assistance monies more attractive than working to be self-sufficient. One thing that should have been done is to apply a sunset clause to the two-year extension as doing so would have enabled the seven-year payment limit to be in place for a specified period before reverting to the original five-year limit.
I believe that most unemployed people would prefer not to receive financial assistance, but there are some others who prefer not work but would rather receive money from the Government. Therefore, another thing that could be done to prevent and discourage a ‘get something for nothing’ mindset is to implement ways that able-bodied unemployed persons could earn the money received from the Government.
When people think of persons on financial assistance, some people envision the Black, single mother, the uneducated, the destitute and indigent and the elderly; but, people needing such support are of every race, education level, socioeconomic group, and they have a wide range of experience that could be utilised within the community. Maybe the Government could consider attaching certain ‘working’ conditions for able-bodied persons receiving financial assistance so that there is a requirement to volunteer with a charity or assist Government or other approved entities as casual labor. There are significant needs in every area of our community where unemployed, white- and blue-collar recipients of financial assistance can contribute.
I see potential win-wins for such an initiative as projects could progress at a faster rate and charities receive additional hands on deck. Also, eligible persons on financial assistance get opportunity to work, to sharpen or even gain skills, and develop new networks. They will also build on their experience and earn the money received from financial assistance.
We all know that Bermuda does not have unlimited financial resources, so every opportunity to ensure that Government is not giving away money, but that able-bodied people who through no fault of their own are unemployed, earn money received. Everything given comes at a cost, so everything necessary should be done keep our able-bodied people working in whatever capacity since if we unintentionally encourage a reliance on ‘the system’ the damage done to the fabric of our society will be near impossible to reverse.