It appears that when Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, back in early April, announced the National Insurance Corporation’s (NIC) Economic Relief Programme (ERP) for the first three months starting in April, not only did he take many Saint Lucians by surprise but also the NIC as well.
The above is a fair assumption based on remarks made by an NIC team that appeared on an NTN programme this week explaining, among other things, why the NIC took so long to roll out the programme after Prime Minister Chastanet’s announcement.
Director Matthew Mathurin noted that when the announcement was made no legislation was in place giving the NIC the authorization needed to roll out such a programme.
“Legislation was passed on April 24 after which we had to put systems in place to accept applications, to accept employee information. We had to upgrade (our) systems to accommodate the massive increase in traffic. Our (web) site was not designed for such an amount of traffic,” Mathurin said.
Many Saint Lucians at the time believed that the NIC would have rolled out the programme right after the announcement by the prime minister, because most people assumed that the NIC had all systems in place prior to the prime minister’s announcement. As explained by Mathurin, this was not the case. This resulted in Saint Lucians fuming at the delay in getting their first month financial package.
According to Mathurin, rolling out such a programme is new for the NIC which was not set up for a scenario like the one currently being faced on island. He explained that the NIC was set up to pay out sickness benefits, maternity benefits, retirement benefits, death benefits, etc., to its contributors, hence the reason the NIC Board could not take, on its own accord, a roll out of such a programme. It needed legislative authority to do so.
The NIC also had to put certain controls in place for an equitable distribution of the programme which now boasts an average payout of $830.16
The NIC, at present, is doing all it can to make sure those who qualify for the relief package get it on time going as far as giving assurances to persons who have yet to get relief for the first month, which is April, that they have not lost anything if their documents are in order.
“It’s unfortunate some people have not gotten paid, but there are legitimate reasons and if they call in we will put people on it to see they get through,” Mathurin said.
The Economic Relief Programme was set up for April, May and June. However it has since been extended to July, August and September. The NIC received legislative authority for the second term of the programme on June 30.
The NIC pays out 50 per cent of insurable earnings subject to a minimum payout of $500 and a maximum of $1500 to persons unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
The programme’s extension comes as no surprise as the NIC, in April, gave consideration to keeping the programme running for an extra three months based on more than one factor. However, the NIC says it has only considered running the programme for six months.