The federal government’s financial boost for people who can’t work under the COVID-19 pandemic must include workers with reduced hours and post-secondary students, a Conservative MP in B.C.’s Okanagan region says.
Dan Albas, the MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, said many of his constituents say they’re not covered by the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, for which applications opened on Monday. The benefit offers $500 a week for up to 16 weeks.
“The government has been somewhat inconsistent with who can receive the benefit, and obviously there are a number of people that are in very dire straits that want to have some certainty,” Albas told Global News.
More than two million Canadians lost their jobs in the last half of March, as businesses across the country were forced to close or drastically reduce their operations to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The benefit is open to Canadians who qualify for employment insurance and those who don’t, including people who don’t have enough work hours to meet EI requirements, and people who are self-employed.
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To be eligible, workers must have had income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application and expect to be without employment or self-employment income for at least 14 consecutive days in the initial four-week period.
So, workers with reduced hours do not qualify because applicants have to prove they are not receiving any income, Albas said.
“Many small business owners, they often have employees who have two, sometimes three part-time jobs,” he said. “Because of COVID-19, (those workers have) seen one or two of the jobs dry up completely, and so, now they are asking either to be laid off so that they can apply for EI, or they are asking for zero hours.”
Post-secondary students, who also do not qualify, will be without the summer jobs they normally pick up in the region in tourism and hospitality, he said.
The federal government has said they’re working on support for those groups and expect to announce more details soon.
Some business owners also take issue with the 30-per-cent benchmark of lost revenue needed to qualify for Ottawa’s $71-billion wage subsidy program, Albas said, because the region’s tourism sector has not delivered as expected in the past few years.
“The other concern is, though, that many businesses are brand new. I’ve spoken to two entrepreneurs in the Kelowna area who just started up their business, and put $270,000 in lease hold improvements, and have been closed by a provincial order,” he said. “So they wouldn’t qualify for a wage subsidy because they weren’t there.”
For more information on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, click here.
-With files from Erica Alini, Rachael D’Amore and the Canadian Press
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