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COLUMN: From the Hill -- supports for people affected by the pandemic

Richard Cannings, MP

The COVID-19 crisis continues to dominate the news across the country and around the world.  As the news gets grimmer in other regions, there is growing hope from British Columbia analyses that show the daily increases in cases diminishing.  Our efforts at physical distancing are working, and we must keep up those efforts. Please stay home as much as possible and stay away from people you don’t live with.

The federal government has come up with a series of initiatives to support Canadian workers and businesses affected by COVID-19, and applications for those supports can be made starting this week.  The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) provides $2000 per month for some affected workers, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will cover 75% of the wages for workers in some affected businesses, and the Canada Emergency Business Account offers up to $40,000 in interest-free loans for some affected businesses.

The 75% wage subsidy program has been especially well received by many business owners I’ve talked with, as it keeps long-term, trained employees on the payroll and off the CERB program. 

Unfortunately, a recent analysis shows that more than 800,000 Canadians who have lost most or all their income are still not eligible for these supports.

If you’re a student looking for summer work, or a recent graduate looking for a permanent job, and didn’t make $5000 last year, you don’t qualify.

If you are a worker whose income has declined from thousands of dollars a month to only a few hundred, you don’t qualify.

If you have a new business and therefore can’t show a drop of 30% in income over last year, you don’t qualify.

If you have a business with less than $50,000 in payroll you don’t qualify. 

If you are a senior who has seen your retirement savings decimated by the market crash, you don’t qualify for any extra support from the federal government.

And the list goes on.

The government has announced that they will be working to fill in some of these gaps in the coming days and weeks.  The NDP has a simple idea to fix all of the gaps:  Simply send every adult in the country $2000 per month for as long as the crisis lasts, and at tax time next year take that sum back from those people who didn’t need the benefit.  This would eliminate the lengthy delays of complicated applications and eliminate any chance of impacted Canadians not qualifying for help.  We continue to hope the government will listen to this very reasonable plan to help all Canadians through these unprecedented times.

We don’t know how long the COVID-19 crisis will continue or what the world will look like after its direct effects subside but, after weeks of self-isolation, we have realized that many workers such as grocery store workers, cleaning staff, and truck drivers are more critical to our lives than sports heroes. Daily parades and noisy demonstrations have celebrated health care workers.

Whether those sentiments will continue after COVID remains to be seen, but we should be thinking seriously about why we pay care aides in seniors homes such low wages.  Why farmers who produce our food have to fight to make a living.  Why 60% of Canadian workers don’t qualify for Employment Insurance when they lose their jobs.

A journalist mentioned to me yesterday that she thought the $2000 per month rate was too low to support Canadian workers.  I asked her how she felt that people with disabilities and people on income assistance get about half that in normal times. 

The world will be different after COVID-19.  Let’s take the opportunity this crisis gives us to build a fairer society.

If you have any questions or concerns, please send an email to richard.cannings@parl.gc.ca, or phone 250-770-4480 (Penticton) or 250-365-2792 (Castlegar).