Following calls by a number of persons in the Territory, including medical practitioner and businessman, Dr Heskith A. Vanterpool, for the Social Security Board (SSB) to step up in this COVID-19 crisis and make a payout to persons made unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of SSB Ms Antonette Skelton has made known that the hands of the SSB are tied due to no legislation being in place for it to give unemployment benefits.
No can do!
Speaking on JTV’s ‘The Big Story’ with host Cathy O. Richards this morning, April 7, 2020, Ms Skelton made it emphatically clear that, “The Social Security Board is a creature of law and the legislation says exactly what the Social Security can pay, namely sickness, maternity, old age, employment injuries, survivors, funeral grant and that is what the legislation says that we can do.”
According to Ms Skelton; however, there is some room in the SSB’s budget for social donations, “But there is no provision in the law for unemployment benefits.
“I am not saying that is not something that we cannot look at in the future.”
Explaining the system, while responding to a question by Ms Richards, the SSB boss explained that every benefit under the SSB is costed.
“You have to contribute to get a benefit. When they actually came up with the 8 ½ percent they had done the study and seen what percentage would be there to cover these benefits. There is no provision at all in the legislation, in any of the studies for unemployment benefits. So there is no way we can pay.”
Past Gov’ts shunned unemployment insurance- Ian S. Smith
Chairman of the SSB, Mr Ian S. Smith, on Friday, April 3, 2020, explained that while SSB cannot pay individuals unemployment benefits it is assisting persons indirectly by donating to families via the Family Support Network (FSN).
“We did a donation this morning (Friday April 3, 2020) and that is going to assist needy families and unemployed individuals.”
Smith said SSB also made a donation to Social Development Department and is preparing to make a $500,000 donation to the BVI Health Services Authority to assist with needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic interventions being done by the Government of the Virgin Islands.
According to Smith, the issue of unemployment insurance has been raised with successive administrations, “And we have studies that were done in terms of what is needed to be put in place for us to do unemployment insurance.”
Mr Smith said that the powers that be at various times had chosen not to pursue it, “And it was looked at as an additional cost on the populace but now we are seeing the importance of having that safety net to the Territory.”