The COVID pandemic has hit almost every family and business across the world. In Belize, the shock was felt primarily in the tourism sector, but even quasi-governmental organizations, such as the Social Security Board, were not spared. During a Social Security event today, General Manager of Social Security's Corporate Customer Relations Services, Chandra Nisbet-Cansino told News Five that the biggest challenge for them during COVID was ensuring continuous service for customers.

Chandra Nisbet-Cansino, Gen. Mgr., Corporate Customer Relations Services, S.S.B.

"At no time did we close our doors, proverbially speaking because there was a point when there was a shut down. So we quickly moved online to facilitate the benefits processing and the registration processing. So that was our biggest challenge because we had to move quickly and we had to be as effective as we usually are to meet our service standards. We did overcome this challenge by ensuring continuous communication with the customers but we never ever closed Social Security for services."

S.S.B. Had a Shortfall of $20M Largely due to Tourism Downturn

And while S.S.B. was able to keep its services running for its customers, it did not meet its budgetary projections for collections last year. Cansino explained that S.S.B. makes these projections based on employers' contributions from year to year. Coupled with that, S.S.B. had to pay out huge amounts for COVID illnesses.

Chandra Nisbet-Cansino, Gen. Mgr., Corporate Customer Relations Services, S.S.B.
"We had a shortfall of about twenty million dollars for 2020 and of course, most of that came out of the tourism industry, so because the businesses and the hotels and the resorts closed down, they did not contribute to Social Security as they would have. So it was a shortfall of around twenty million dollars for 2020."

"And then in addition to that, S.S.B. also had to pay out to COVID patients, right? That is an added expense?"

Chandra Nisbet-Cansino
"Yes, that - I wouldn't call it an added expense. It's certainly a benefit that if the customers qualify, they are entitled to get. So we had - what we did notice was a lot of other claims for sickness benefits went really low. For example, for the flu and other more common illnesses, those went down and then COVID went up."

Cansino says S.S.B. is still in the process of finalizing its figures for 2020 in its annual financial report.

S.S.B. Hoping Deferred 1% Increase in Contributions Can Begin Soon

The shortfall that Cansino spoke of and the huge payouts the S.S.B. has had to make have placed the S.S.B. in a precarious position. Now that the economy is gradually rebounding, S.S.B. says the planned one percent increase that was deferred due to COVID is needed even more than it was in pre-COVID times.

Chandra Cansino, Gen. Mgr., Corporate Customer Relations Services, S.S.B.
"I think the plan is to put a request to the Prime Minister under whose Ministry we fall, to see if the one percent will be implemented in January of 2022."

Marion Ali
"Might there be concerns still coming from employers and employees, considering that we're still not back to where we were pre-COVID era and some people are still not making what they were then and some businesses are not doing as well as well as then."

Chandra Nisbet-Cansino
"Yes, most certainly, we expect that to be a part of the dialogue and so I think probably the Ministry of Finance themselves will have to look at all of the different circumstances and be able to let us know if indeed we would be able to implement the last part of the contribution reform for 2022."

Marion Ali
"And if that's not possible just yet, then how will S.S.B. manage?"

Chandra Nisbet-Cansino
"Well, it puts us in a critical state again because remember the reform is based on sustainability."

Currently, under the contributions reform, employers and employees are paying nine percent of employees' insurable earnings. S.S.B. estimates it will pay out some ninety-eight million dollars by the end of this year, mostly in pensions. News Five will bring you the Social Security Fund's scholarship signing event later in this newscast.

Channel 5