Coronavirus changed the world. Coronavirus is changing the world. It is not limited to an infected count, a death count, a survivor count. It is not limited to numbers at all. As of today, July 1st, 2020, the world has seen 516,000 official deaths but everybody has been affected by this novel disease one way or another—financially, emotionally, or more likely, both. Its grasp is so far reaching many may consider it divine.
Our year 2020 is referred to as the time of the Great Lockdown; the time when we had the worst recession since the Great Depression. The next question is intuitive: when and how can we go back to normal? The problem: normal is now a highly subjective and relative term—to coronavirus—and we are only starting to step onto the long and winding road of recovery. This article will examine that road and how it appears today for Bahamian businesses and individuals trying to regain their footing.
As of June 30th, 2020, The Bahamas has 104 confirmed cases, 89 recovered, 4 active and 11 deaths. 82 of the total cases have been isolated to New Providence. All of Nassau has shut down, and we have been forced to adapt in the preamble of a slow reopening to a real GDP contraction of at least 12 percent and a proposed fiscal deficit of as well, 12 percent of GDP.
The 2020/21 Annual Budget
The Minister of Finance, Mr. Turnquest, wrote in his annual budget communication on the government’s necessary response to coronavirus: ‘A feeding program that can reach more people for a longer period of time. An unemployment assistance program that puts cash in the hands of more than 20,000 people, as a form of income replacement. In practice, it means supporting and growing more small businesses with grants and expanded investments…’. His plan is called: ‘Resilient Bahamas: A Plan for Restoration’.
What does this mean in terms of dollars and cents? For the three months to June, over $140 million was allocated as part of the government’s official response, which included:
- Social assistance through food and unemployment assistance programs
- Incentives for employee retention with tax credits and deferrals
- Business continuity grants and loan support for small businesses
- Expanded subsidies to the utility companies in the effort to support bill payment waivers
The National Insurance Board (NIB) paid $6.2 million so far for the government-funded unemployment assistance program designed for self-employed individuals. Through the standard Unemployment Benefit Scheme, NIB also paid $28.8 million in benefits to those laid off due to the virus. This equates to over 26,000 people since the end of March. With respect to business continuity, 284 small businesses were approved for loans, making a collective total of $19.4 million. Further, the Department of Inland Revenues approved 44 companies for a collective total of $5.7 million in tax credits or deferrals. All of this has protected approximately 5,400 jobs.
Looking beyond July 1st, the government is allocating an additional $250 million, including:
- $48 million for unemployment assistance
- $17 million for social welfare and food assistance
- $30 million for business support and loans
- $120 million for the ‘Tax Credit and Tax Deferral Program’
Provisional Business Licenses
The Business Continuity Programme
This is designed to give micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) loans to supplement their working capital and to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue. All MSMEs are eligible, so long as they earned less than $3 million in revenue for 2019 while employing less than 50 people. Click here for information on applying online.
The Tax Credit & Deferral Employment Retention Programme
This is designed to give large enterprises loans for the same purpose. Large in this context means an annual turnover of more than $3 million for 2019 while employing 25 people or more. Click here for information on applying online.
All laid off or terminated persons can find a link to benefit forms and an NIB email submission address here.
Those individuals experiencing hardship can apply online here.
A ‘Soft Opening’
As of today, the borders of The Bahamas are open to all travellers, who can submit a travel health visa application online, which must include a negative COVID-19 test. No quarantine is required though those who do show symptoms will be moved to an on-site quarantine area.