Bruce Campion-Smith Ottawa Bureau
April 7, 2020
Ottawa to help workers with reduced hours who don't qualify for income supports
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will extend financial aid to Canadians working reduced hours but don't qualify for a program meant to provide emergency income support.
Speaking Monday, as the government began taking applications for its Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Trudeau said that changes "in the coming days" will ensure that those who have lost income because of a reduced schedule will also be able to tap the program for help.
The prime minister conceded that in the rush to get aid money flowing to as many people as possible, groups that need assistance have been missed.
"We recognize that there are groups of people who aren't benefiting from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit who probably should," Trudeau said.
He said the change could assist those who have seen hours dramatically reduced to perhaps 10 hours a week or less. "We will soon be announcing how you can benefit from the CERB."
The new benefit, which will pay $500 a week for up to 16 weeks, is meant to help Canadians left without income because of job loss or forced to stay at home due to illness, self-isolation or child care. Applications opened Monday and by midday, 240,000 Canadians had applied.
However, only those people with no income can apply. It provides no help for those who have seen their hours chopped as those businesses still operating have cut back.
The government is also working to plug another gap for those who are still working but making less than they could collect under the benefit. Trudeau singled out long-term care workers looking after seniors.
"That's why we're looking carefully at how we can increase their pay a little bit so that they are better off remaining at work," Trudeau said.
And like he did on Sunday, the prime minister acknowledged the plight of students facing a bleak summer job market.
"For people in all of these situations, we see you," he said, adding that Finance Minister Bill Morneau would have updates "soon."
"These are fine-tunings that we knew we would have to do because in any program you're trying to help as many people as possible. There will be exceptions that we have to fill and we're going to keep working to make sure that we get this right and get everyone the help they need," he said.
The prime minister also praised moves by the banks to cut credit card interest rates for people facing financial difficulty but said more was needed on this front.
"We need to see even more action like this going forward because this is the time to think about each other not about the bottom line," Trudeau said.
RBC, CIBC and National Bank announced Friday they would slash credit card interest rates for cash-strapped customers and other institutions followed their lead over the weekend.
"We're pleased they've announced some relief for Canadians. We think that's good for Canadians.
Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said his organization has also been pressing the banks to lessen the burden on cash-strapped customers. He too praised the moves so far but called on financial institutions to show "leadership" and take further action. Statistics Canada on Monday highlighted data showing that just over one-half of Canadians has enough savings to stretch for at least three months, "which suggests that a large number of Canadians do not have enough financial resources to withstand a sudden drop in income for an extended period of time."
With so many businesses temporarily closed, Yussuff said the ranks of those facing financial hardship will rise rapidly.
He urged banks to eliminate "hoops" such as having to demonstrate financial distress to qualify for the lower credit card rates. He said banks should help customers consolidate high-interest debt into lower-cost loans. And Yussuff said they should not be charging customers interest on mortgage deferrals.
"They allow people to defer their mortgage but they are charging them interest on the deferral which is beyond my understanding why they think they can get away with that," Yussuff said in an interview.
National Bank has said it will not charge its clients interest on mortgages, an example Yussuff urged others to follow.
"I'm hoping the banks will have more to say about how much more they can do to help Canadians," he said.
Copyright 2020. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission. All Rights Reserved.