New funds for COVID-19 community programs coming, wage subsidy launching April 27: PM
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is setting up a $350 million Emergency Community Support Fund to help charities and non-profits keep up their work assisting Canada’s most vulnerable through the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, as of Tuesday companies who have been eyeing the 75 per cent wage subsidy for employees will be able to get an estimate of how much money they’ll be able to claim once the application portal opens next Monday.
Speaking to the supplementary supports for community programs, Trudeau said that due to a drop in donations and because organizations have had to change the way they deliver services in accordance with public health measures, it has left groups like seniors and people with disabilities without the programs they rely on.
The new funding will go to small front-line organizations, as well as larger national groups, “that can get funds to local organizations and vulnerable people quickly,” Trudeau said.
The funding is welcome news for Winnipeg’s Main Street Project, a charity dedicated to helping the community’s most vulnerable people by providing housing options, addictions services and a food market.
Since the outbreak began, the charity has expanded to three additional locations to meet the increasing demand.
“We really can’t afford to shrink,” Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, told CTV News. “We actually have to grow in this pandemic, but how do you do that when you are short funded to begin with. We had to cancel our spring gala which normally generates $100,000 for us.”
The government says this funding will help with increasing volunteer home deliveries of groceries and medications; allowing more help-lines to provide information and support; providing transportation services to appointments; and beefing up virtual versions of social gatherings.
The federal government had already put in place some aid measures, such as increasing funding to food banks and homeless shelters, as well as other community outreach programs, but advocacy groups have continued to say more is needed, with some in the charitable sector calling for dollar-for-dollar matching programs.
Charity advocacy group Imagine Canada has forecast that charities will lose between $9.5 billion and $15.7 billion in revenue and be forced to reduce staff by between 117,000 and 195,000 this year.
“Our sector employs 2.4 million Canadians and is 8.5 per cent of GDP,” said Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada. “It’s actually a significant part of the Canadian economy.”
On March 23, Imagine Canada called on the federal government to provide an $8 billion emergency stabilization fund for Canadian charities and for charities to be eligible for some of the staffing benefits available to small businesses.
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen said that more Canadians than usual are relying on these social support systems and offered his thanks to those still showing up to help out.
"This money will help groups like those in Eastern Ontario, but are looking to provide meals to those who cannot leave their homes... It would also help organizations such as the Atlantic Compassion Fund or the Vancouver Foundation which is providing support to women who are fleeing domestic violence,” Hussen said.
CRA BRACING FOR WAGE SUBSIDY CLAIMS
As for the wage subsidy, Trudeau said a new calculator is being launched on the Canada Revenue Agency website to help businesses determine how much they will be able to claim through the wage subsidy program. He said employers will be able to apply as of Monday, April 27 for the 75 per cent salary top-up to keep staff on the payroll.
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said the new dedicated webpage will allow employers to get a sense of what to expect to receive through the massive economic program set to cost $73 billion.
“It is expected that 90 per cent of the applications will have been processed by May 5, with direct deposits and cheques made and sent soon after,” Duclos said.
During a background briefing for reporters, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) officials said the agency is “well-placed” to deliver this large program that is poised to accept “hundreds of thousands” of applications from Canadian companies.
In advance of Monday’s application opening, the CRA is encouraging businesses to sign up for a business account, and are noting that all claims will be subject to verification by the CRA.
The calculator allows employees to plug in the number of employees they have and their gross payroll to better determine specific line amounts they should use when they go to apply, officials said.
The entire first batch of applications will be processed at the same time, by the end of next week, so there is no need to log in first thing Monday morning, officials said.
While there is some concern about fraud or companies seeking to exploit tax loopholes to tap into more funds than they should be eligible for, the national revenue body says it’s confident its internal auditing team will be able to identify any irregularities.
As well, tough penalties are built into the legislation enacting this program. Business owners found to be misusing the funds could face up to five years in prison and heavy fines, potentially having to pay 225 per cent of what they received.
The wage subsidy program passed Parliament on April 11, and will provide up to $847 a week per employee for 12 weeks, retroactive to March 15, for companies big and small as well as charities.
Over the last few weeks, the government has announced further expansions to the subsidy program and the amount of revenue decline businesses had to show in recent months, with the intention of keeping as many Canadians employed despite the pandemic shutting down many aspects of society and the economy. Charities were also granted the ability to choose whether or not to include government revenues in their calculations of lost revenue when applying.
“We hope to be able to get this help out to businesses to keep employees on their payroll as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said, noting that eight million Canadians who are out of work or whose income has been considerably reduced have now applied for the $2,000 a month Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
During Monday’s meeting of MPs on Parliament Hill — where a plan for how the House of Commons will gather weekly and allow for regular opposition questioning was ironed out — various ministers continued to indicate that more help is coming, with some economic programs still being finalized and expected to be ready to accept applicants in the coming days.
SUPPLY STRUGGLES, RESEARCH UNDERWAY
With the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada still growing — though at slower rates than forecast in some regions — and provincial emergency orders getting extended, Trudeau faced more questions about the ongoing issues when it comes to stocking up on enough personal protective equipment.
While domestic re-tooling is well underway and essential medical supplies like ventilators and face shields are being made by Canadian companies, the federal government is also navigating what’s been described as a “wild west” of international procurement to top-up supply stashes across the country.
For example, two planes sent to retrieve supplies from China were forced to return empty due to interruptions in the supply line and at checkpoints that went past the limit of time aircrafts are able to wait on the ground in that country, Trudeau said Tuesday.
Trudeau said, “for the most part” supplies are making it to where they need to go, but vowed health services in all provinces and territories will be getting the equipment they need. He said millions of pieces of PPE have made their way to Canada in recent days.
“We've seen a number of provinces talk about, you know, possible shortages, a number of days away… We've managed to cover those but we are in a situation where people are having to make choices to try and stretch out our PPE long as, as long as possible,” Trudeau said.
He also offered an update on the various research initiatives underway, saying that more than 500 firms have offered ideas for innovations to help Canada through the pandemic. Among the projects getting underway are: a new cloud-based network allowing researchers who are looking to improve the ability to diagnose and treat COVID-19, to share their findings; and an e-grocery management system to insure healthcare workers, seniors, and others have access to fresh food during the crisis.
As of midday Tuesday, there are 38,206 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada and 1,831 deaths.
Monday’s address from Rideau Cottage included no new announcements as the prime minister focused solely on the violent and deadly crime spree that unfolded over the weekend in Nova Scotia.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said he’s spoken with RCMP officials, Nova Scotia MPs, and visited the Canadian Police and Peace Officer's Memorial to pay tribute, saying that all the families of victims have the support of the nation.