More aid coming for those who don't qualify for current COVID-19 benefits: PM
OTTAWA -- As another critical week in Canada’s efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve begins, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will soon introduce new measures to make emergency benefits accessible for Canadians who don’t currently qualify.
Trudeau said that Canadians who still have jobs but are working 10 hours or less due to the pandemic, such as gig economy or contract workers, as well as those who are working but earning less money than they would if they received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), such as long-term care workers, will soon be able to qualify for federal assistance.
“There are groups of people who aren't benefiting from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit who probably should,” Trudeau said. “We're looking carefully at how we can increase their pay a little bit so that they do better off remaining at work, rather than going off work and receiving the emergency response benefit.”
He called the expansion on eligibility the “fine tunings” that have to come when launching a program of this scale with the intent of reaching as many people as possible.
“There will be exceptions that we have to fill,” Trudeau said.
Over the weekend Trudeau indicated that with the CERB applications opening on Monday in a staggered way, more direct help would be coming soon for students who don’t qualify. He also put a call out for volunteers to help Health Canada with data collection, case tracking and contact tracing.
Trudeau said that 240,000 people had already applied for the emergency benefit by the time he gave his late-morning address. As of the ministerial briefing on COVID-19 efforts that followed Trudeau’s address, “more than 300,000” people had applied, according to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos.
The benefit will provide $2,000 a month for four months for those eligible.
“What is currently happening is that the federal government is reacting in an emergency situation, and in an emergency manner, which we haven't seen in the history of the social safety net of Canada,” Duclos said.
Not all out-of-work Canadians qualify for the emergency benefit, in order to be eligible applicants must have earned at least $5,000 in the past 12 months or in 2019 as a whole, and must be out of work for reasons directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
College and university students are one sizeable demographic that has largely been left in the lurch. Some work only casual, part-time jobs that pay less than $5,000 over the course of a year. Others only work during summer, when classes are out – meaning they haven't lost their job due to the pandemic, but it will be difficult for them to find work in a largely locked-down country once their summer begins.
Among those, recent graduates like Moncton, N.B. resident Karine Chiasson who was looking forward to starting fulltime work until her job was cancelled indefinitely.
“With me not receiving any help, I have no idea how we will be paying our bills in about six weeks,” she told CTV News.
Healthcare providers on the outskirts of the COVID-19 outbreak, like physiotherapists and chiropractors, also say they have been hung out to dry as they begin offering virtual consults for their patients.
“They want to be able to care for patients, but by making that small amount they don’t qualify for the CERB,” Lisa Munkley, a physiotherapist in Victoria, B.C., told CTV News.
“I know there are also lots of university or college students wondering what kind of job you'll get this summer. You need support now, and work is underway to get it to you as soon as possible,” Trudeau said.
In another effort for additional financial relief, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced over the weekend that several big banks would be lowering credit card rates for those impacted by COVID-19.
Trudeau called this “much needed relief on debt.”
EXPANDED AID BILL BEING DRAFTED
The prime minister also said that the government is currently drafting its second piece of emergency legislation, are in talks with the other parties, and will be looking to recall Parliament “in the coming days,” this time to pass a multibillion-dollar expansion to COVID-19 financial assistance measures.
On April 1, Trudeau called the expanded wage subsidy program — a 75 per cent subsidy for businesses to keep employees on staff, up from the initial 10 per cent — the largest economic program in Canadian history, and that’s why he thinks Parliament should be reconvened to approve it. Though, the recall is also needed because it exceeds what was included in the legislation passed during the first emergency overnight sitting.
In perhaps an attempt to limit future in-person House of Commons sittings in an era of working from home, the government has written to Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota to get advice on what would be a historic first: moving to virtual sittings of the House of Commons as a potential avenue for digital democratic accountability.
"We have to look at ways of virtually convening Parliament, so that parliamentarians from across the country who were elected to do their jobs of representing their citizens in normal times and in times of crisis can make themselves heard,” Trudeau said. “It can't be just about folks who have proximity to Parliament, or the ability to get here. We need to look at ways that our democracy and our institutions can stay strong and embody and fulfill the functions that Canadians need them to.”
Asked his thoughts on going virtual, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that he would like to continue to see in-person sittings with a reduced number of MPs and only virtual meetings for committee requirements.
"We are pushing for regular accountability and oversight sessions in the House of Commons. That is the best place to hold ministers responsible for their departments and for their actions," Scheer said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that when the House of Commons does reconvene, it’s a chance to “get it right” when it comes to making sure all Canadians can get help at this time.
WEEK FOUR OF PHYSICAL DISTANCING
Entering the fourth week of physical distancing and shutdown of non-essential workplaces, health officials say they will be watching closely the number of new cases being reported to get a sense of whether or not the measures in place are proving effective at slowing the virus’ spread.
With more information about the number of cases coming in from across the country, the federal government says it’s working on ways to present more concrete modelling and science-based predictions in the coming days.
“What the next weeks and months look like depends on you. It depends on whether you stay home, whether you help protect the vulnerable and make sure our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed,” Trudeau said, offering once again a wide ranging timeline for how long physical distancing measures will be in place.
Trudeau said the government is working on getting more testing kits to get a more fulsome picture of how many Canadians have contracted the virus.
"Every single day we are doing more tests than the day before. We recognize that large-scale testing is a key element of flattening the curve and dealing with the long term prognosis of this pandemic. We will need to continue to test more and more to get those answers back quickly and be able to monitor the spread of Coronavirus through our population,” Trudeau said.
“Testing will be an essential part of how we get through this,” he said.
As of Monday afternoon there were 16,499 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with the highest concentrations of the virus in Quebec, and Ontario.
SUPPLY SHIPMENT STRESSES
Shipments of essential medical supplies are also set to continue arriving in Canada this week, as domestic production ramps up in an effort to stave off the impacts of global price gouging and protectionism. Already, some provinces are warning they are days away from running out of personal protective equipment like respirator masks and gloves.
“It's hard, but that's why we have to work even harder. And it is also why I am so grateful to all of the Canadian manufacturers right across the country who are stepping up to figure out ways that we can make the medical equipment, the testing equipment that we need here in Canada,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Monday.
On Monday, Trudeau noted that there have been issues with delayed or incomplete deliveries from other countries.
“We have recognized over the past weeks a number of situations in which shipments coming from different countries around the world have been delayed [or] haven't arrived with as many products as we were hoping to see,” Trudeau said.
Facing questions about the ongoing concern that the United States is restricting producers including 3M from sending supplies made in the U.S. to Canada and elsewhere, Trudeau said he is confident that any outstanding shipments will be delivered.
“We are working with them to ensure that the orders that Canada has placed get delivered. We expect those shipments to come," he said.
The prime minister said that Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that talks continue and have so far been “productive.”