Minister: $3.5 Million Paid Over Amount Eligible

July 2, 2021 | 11 Comments

Approximately 2,500 people received benefits in excess of the amount they were eligible for in the Unemployment Benefit programme which amounted to approximately $3.5 million, Minister of Finance Curtis Dickinson said, adding that to date, 300 people have refunded the government approximately $500,000.

While answering questions in the House of Assembly today, Minister Dickinson said, “Approximately 2,500 people received benefits in excess of the amounts that they were eligible for,” he said, adding that it was approximately $3.5 million or about $1,400 per person.

“To date, 300 people have refunded the government approximately $500,000, so the amount that is outstanding with respect to the overall program is about 5%,” the Minister said. When asked if that means if $3 million is outstanding, the Minister confirmed that yes, it does.

The Minister added that “it is the Government’s intention to pursue, in a methodical and fair manner, the recovery of all outstanding overpaid amounts directly from respective recipients.”

Short one minute extract where the Minister confirms the $3.5M in overpayments

The questions came after the Minister delivered a statement in the House of Assembly today [July 2] about the matter.

The Minister said, “This was an unprecedented and very serious situation, which understandably generated high levels of anxiety within our community. The Government immediately realized that we must ensure that the most vulnerable were assisted and that time was of the essence.

“Therefore, in short order, we designed a temporary program that became known as the Unemployment Benefit or UEB scheme. The Unemployment Benefit scheme provided financial assistance to persons that were laid off, terminated or had their income significantly reduced, as a result of restrictions imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Such persons were paid up to a maximum of $500 per week.

“To limit the financial impact to those in need during this trying period, during the initial phase of UEB persons continued to be paid until they advised that they had returned to work.

“Unfortunately, this led to some overpayments, as persons did not always provide the required notification accurately or on a timely basis. Some of these funds have subsequently been recovered. It is the Government’s intention to pursue, in a methodical and fair manner, the recovery of all outstanding overpaid amounts directly from respective recipients.

15 minute audio extract of the Q&A about the payments:

“Under the current provisions, the government’s only legal recourse is through the Courts. The amendments to the Public Treasury [Administration and Payments] Act will allow provisions relating to “set- off” [the netting of funds payable to a recipient by the government against what the recipient owes to government] to be extended to benefit payments.

“This set-off mechanism in place will allow for more efficient recovery of funds. Once the provision is in place, the Government will be reaching out to individuals to recover funds that have not yet been returned.

“The over-payments and the need to validate certain actions may on the face of the matter seem somewhat alarming. However, this crisis required the well-being of Bermuda residents to be given the highest priority.”

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to advise Honourable Members of the tabling today of the Public Treasury [Administration and Payments] Amendment and Validation Act 2021 [the Act]. The amendments provide the Government with the legislative mechanism to set-off funds owed arising from benefit payments against future payments to be made to individuals. The Act will also validate certain matters related to unemployment benefit payments effected during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable and fragile our world is. The infection has challenged the way we socialize, put the lives of the citizens of every country in great peril, while also creating significant financial and economic challenges. In approximately 18 months, the World Health Organization [WHO] estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic has infected somewhere around 182 million individuals and killed almost 4 million people. The total costs to countries and their people has reached unprecedented levels. It is arguably the worst pandemic in history, especially from a health, financial and socioeconomic standpoint.

Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear that we all have been affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, the impact of the pandemic and its consequences have been felt differently, depending on each person’s personal circumstances. For some people, in addition to dealing with actual or potential health challenges, they have had to struggle to even take care of their basic needs, due to no or significantly reduced income.

Mr. Speaker, in most developed nations they typically have some form of an unemployment insurance that helps to support workers who become unemployed and meet certain criteria. Normally, these unemployment insurance programs are funded by either employee/employer contributions or some form of a tax. However, Mr. Speaker, Bermuda has never had such a program.

Mr. Speaker, when the need arose to protect the health and lives of Bermuda residents by shutting our borders and limiting people’s movement throughout the country, this resulted in a large number of vulnerable people who desperately needed financial help. These persons suddenly found themselves out of work and unable to determine how they would be able to pay their rent and feed themselves and their families.

Mr. Speaker, this was an unprecedented and very serious situation, which understandably generated high levels of anxiety within our community. The Government immediately realized that we must ensure that the most vulnerable were assisted and that time was of the essence. Therefore, in short order, we designed a temporary program that became known as the Unemployment Benefit or UEB scheme. The Unemployment Benefit scheme provided financial assistance to persons that were laid off, terminated or had their income significantly reduced, as a result of restrictions imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Such persons were paid up to a maximum of $500 per week.

Mr. Speaker, the demand for the UEB was overwhelming and substantial. Over 10,000 persons applied to receive support for their financial predicament on an expedited and emergency basis. Because of the critical nature of ensuring that funding was provided to these vulnerable persons on a timely basis, there were instances in which there was insufficient time for UEB applications to be completed within the full review and approval process, prior to making payments [in accordance with the UEB Regulations]. Thus, there were occasions where payments were expeditiously made without prior approval by the Director of the Department of Workforce Development and by the Permanent Secretary of Labour. There is therefore a need to validate any such payment made, under any of the UEB Regulations, to an eligible person without prior approval, as required by the relevant UEB Regulations.

Mr. Speaker, there were also limited instances, due to extenuating circumstances, where a regulation was not appropriately extended or replaced on a timely basis. Thus a few payments were made before the new or amended regulation was brought into force..

Mr. Speaker, I must however make it clear that while there were some processes that were not properly followed due to the unprecedented and life altering challenges we were facing, there were other processes that were developed and implemented to ensure that there still “checks and balances” and an effective audit trail. Thus there was adequate information on the payees and the appropriate linkages to the accounts where payments were made to allow for appropriate review. It is important to also note that once the vast number of applications was processed to a manageable level, further checks and adjustments were carried out.

Mr. Speaker, to limit the financial impact to those in need during this trying period, during the initial phase of UEB persons continued to be paid until they advised that they had returned to work. Unfortunately, this led to some overpayments, as persons did not always provide the required notification accurately or on a timely basis. Some of these funds have subsequently been recovered. It is the Government’s intention to pursue, in a methodical and fair manner, the recovery of all outstanding overpaid amounts directly from respective recipients.

Mr. Speaker, under the current provisions, the government’s only legal recourse is through the Courts. The amendments to the Public Treasury [Administration and Payments] Act will allow provisions relating to “set- off” [the netting of funds payable to a recipient by the government against what the recipient owes to government] to be extended to benefit payments.

Mr. Speaker, this set-off mechanism in place will allow for more efficient recovery of funds. Once the provision is in place, the Government will be reaching out to individuals to recover funds that have not yet been returned.

Mr. Speaker, the over-payments and the need to validate certain actions may on the face of the matter seem somewhat alarming. However, this crisis required the well-being of Bermuda residents to be given the highest priority. We made the necessary decisions to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society had funding for the basic necessities of life and to keep them and their families out of extreme poverty during a time of unprecedented hardship.

It was a time when saving lives had to take precedence over rigid adherence to rules for the greater good. Notwithstanding the fact that we now need to take these steps, it is our strong belief that this was the right and humane thing to do for our people, given the devastating circumstances.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker

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Comments (11)

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  1. wahoo says:

    Lucky for the PLP nobody understands or cares. This is like Sandys 360 on a grand scale. Savvy knows how easy it is and people are going hungry while we give gifts to clubs that should be self sufficient. SMH.

  2. wahoo says:

    Blessed are the youth for they shall inherit the debt….

  3. Hahaha this is too funny! When you elect fiscal clowns you get exactly what you vote for, not one of those in the plp cabinet today have ever been successful in the private sector, and stuff like this proves exactly why!

    If I had $1 left to my name, and I had to bet, I would put it on that the Fin Minister worked in some obscure Wells Fargo location at the end of a strip mall that no one ever visited! I say that because if anyone ever listens to him speak, he talks well but says absolutely nothing of substance!

    You all need to start thinking really hard before you cast votes whenever the next election is, and give some thought to how much of your hard earned money has been thrown away since 2017 when you foolishly elected these clowns, and think real hard about what has been done to those that are not even of working age yet!

    I shake my head at ” This Governments” ignorance, and I shake it even harder at the Bermuda electorates ignorance for handing them a 30-6 mandate!

    You all are getting exactly what you deserve!

  4. Now Ya Nice says:

    Where are the marchers? The comments? The petitions of resignations? The People’s Campaign?

    All of you sheep were fools. Where is the outrage.?

    You can hear crickets

  5. aceboy says:

    Not one comment. Interesting.

  6. Joe Bloggs says:

    “it is the Government’s intention to pursue, in a methodical and fair manner, the recovery of all outstanding overpaid amounts directly from respective recipients”

    Yes, with the same vigour the Government uses in collecting outstanding Payroll Tax and Social Insurance and pension contribution.

  7. Question says:

    And I bet $3.5m is the low-end estimate. They should publish the full report. Any fool can hand out other people’s money.

    • Joe Bloggs says:

      Yes, but these are not any fools, these are our elected fools!

  8. The Red Pill says:

    The Govt has no choice but to work with people and not take anyone to court, people were posting all over the place that money was still coming into their accounts even though they were back to work! I know people who this happened to who tried to call Govt but couldn’t get through and the voice mailboxes were full. It wasn’t like people were showing up week after week to collect a cheque they weren’t entitled to, the funds were going into their accounts. The blame for this rests solely on the shoulders of the inefficient government department.

    • Joe Bloggs says:

      Oh, it gets much better than that.

      My brother in law died in January. Social Insurance was informed. Social Insurance wrote a letter to acknowledging my brother in law’s death.

      Social Insurance continues to deposit money into my (dead) brother in law’s bank account, most recently on 15 June.

      With that kind of attention to detail what can you expect?

  9. Wing nut says:

    Add this to the 800k the gr8 entertainer got, the 1.2 the bra doc got.. bitcoin booming.
    Tweed turbert marchers anybody, h ypocrits someone.

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