With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing businesses to shut down and workers to self-isolate, the provincial and federal governments are implementing measures that will provide Albertans with some financial relief. Here’s what has been announced so far.
For workers who qualify for EI
Those who have worked at least 600 hours in the last 52 weeks can qualify for Employment Insurance (EI).
EI benefits are available to those who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are available to work.
Those who qualify can also apply for the EI sickness benefit, which can give up to 15 weeks of payment, worth 55 per cent of earnings to a maximum of $573 per week.
The federal government also removed the one-week waiting period for sickness benefits for those who have been told to self-isolate or quarantine.
If you qualify for EI and are also caring for someone who is critically ill, you can also apply for EI caregiver benefits. That adds between 15 and 35 weeks of payments, worth up to 55 per cent of the individual’s usual pay or $573 per week, whichever is less. Those who qualify can apply on the EI website.
In addition, the province is also offering emergency isolation support. That will give workers who had to self-isolate or care for a person who needed to self-isolate and don’t have another source of payment, a one-time payment of $573 for two weeks while they’re waiting for federal benefits. Albertans can apply online starting next week.
For workers who don’t qualify for EI, including those who are self-employed
The federal government is offering the emergency care benefit for people who can’t work because of self-isolation or for people caring for someone else who is ill. This benefit gives individuals up to 15 weeks of payment, worth up to $450 per week.
Another benefit offered by Canada is the emergency support benefit, offered to people who have lost their ability to work because of public health orders and don’t qualify for EI. That includes self-employed individuals and contractors. The details of how much it is and how to get it is coming in the next few weeks.
Application for both benefits are done online through the CRA.
For employers and businesses
Canada has announced the new Business Credit Availability program, which will provide lending support to small, medium and large businesses experiencing cash-flow challenges.
The details of how much money businesses qualify for and how to get support are still being developed by the government. Companies will have to apply through the Business Development Bank of Canada or Export Development Canada.
“If you’re someone who caters to local markets, BCD will probably be your point of contact,” said Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist for Alberta Central, the central banking facility for Alberta’s credit unions.
St-Arnaud said employers can also apply for a federal wage subsidy, which for the next 90 days will grant employers up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.
Businesses can also defer to pay their income tax for six months, until Aug. 31, without interest and penalties for tax amounts owing from now to September.
For people with mortgages
Canada’s six big banks have agreed to allow people to defer mortgage payments for up to six months. Those are the Bank of Montreal, CIBC, National Bank of Canada, RBC Royal Bank, Scotiabank and TD Bank. Credit unions are also coming up with a similar program.
“It’s really just lengthening your amortization schedule,” said Lorne Rackel, general manager and broker of record with Jayman Financial.
“By no means are those payments of interests being waived. They’re just being tacked onto the back of the back of the mortgage,” he said.
Rackel said it’s essentially the principal amount and interest that’s being deferred.
He said most banks have now set up teams and call centres to deal with the requests, so people who want a deferral should look at the call options provided by their bank.
Alberta has announced a six month, interest-free moratorium on student loan payments. Payments can be paused for six months starting on March 30 and students don’t have to apply for the repayment pause. The same applies for federal student loan debt. Borrowers can continue making payments during this period if they wish.
Utility payment deferrals
The province said residential, farm and small commercial customers can defer their utility bill payments for the next 90 days and no one will be cut off from these services during the crisis. This includes electricity and natural gas.
Rackel said it’s possible for people to get deferral on other loans and credit card debts, so people should reach out directly to their bank and lenders for more information.
Jennifer Robson, associate professor in political management at Carleton University, said people who qualify for the GST credit and the Canada Child Benefit will also get a big top up soon.
Robson urges people to file their taxes to get their returns, which could include those benefits.
“Make sure you’re signing for those benefits you’re entitled to,” she said.