B.C. Premier John Horgan announces B.C. is working on its own economic aid package, B.C. legislature, March 17, 2020. (B.C. government)

EI expansion answers B.C.’s request for Ottawa coronavirus assistance

Justin Trudeau says $27B fund targets shut-down workers, businesses

B.C.’s small businesses and workers who don’t usually qualify for Employment Insurance will receive payments soon to make up for income lost to COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Trudeau announced Wednesday that “exceptional measures” are in the works to help people affected by the shutdown of large parts of the economy. The aid comes from a $27 billion fund to aid businesses and employees who can’t work due to public health restrictions.

“We really wanted to target people who are specifically losing their income,” said Trudeau, adding that payments should be flowing “within the next few weeks.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James called for that measure Tuesday, as officials announced the indefinite closure of schools, bars, some restaurants, dental offices and other functions.

“As we know, more and more people are working contract-to-contract or are self employed in the gig economy,” Horgan said after his government started reviewing the federal package. “These workers also deserve direct support as they self-isolate or care for a family member or children. Therefore, I am pleased to see that federal government responded to our request for additional benefits for those who don’t qualify for Employment Insurance.”

James said she will prepare B.C.’s own aid package to deal with COVID-19 once the details of Ottawa’s program are known. Businesses have asked for relief from provincial sales tax and employer health tax among other measures, and James said she is preparing to take the province into deficit to get through the crisis.

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the “emergency care benefit” will provide contractors, freelancers, part-time and “gig economy” workers up to $900 every two weeks, for 15 weeks starting in early April.

Morneau also announced a wage top-up of up to $25,000 over three months for employers to help them make payroll, effective immediately.


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