Coronavirus: Alberta employers and workers welcome government help, but remain worried

Click to play video: 'Albertans react to $82B in federal aid for families & businesses' Albertans react to $82B in federal aid for families & businesses
WATCH ABOVE: Promises of financial help due to economic impact of the coronavirus come as many employers and employees are struggling: work has all but disappeared and so have wages. Fletcher Kent has more on how Albertans are reacting to government aid – Mar 18, 2020

Business owners and employees in the Edmonton area say they are relieved to see promises of help coming from Canadian governments. They need it.

Colleen Pushor owns Caprice Cleaning in Sherwood Park. In the last few days about a third of her regular clients have cancelled on her. Nobody wants visitors at the moment.

“As a small business owner, I don’t have the extra funds to keep paying them their part-time wages,” Pushor said.

“As things progress and as we’re home more and more and more, anxiety is starting to build up.”

On Wednesday, she sat with employee Wanda Johnson-Charette. The pair talked about what’s ahead for the business and Pushor explained there would likely be no houses to clean in the near future.

“It doesn’t look like there’s any normal in the near future for us,” said Johnson-Charette, who works part time for Caprice Cleaning.

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A couple of years ago, she was laid off and she needs to work part-time to supplement her unplanned retirement. She’s getting more and more concerned.

“There are ways to cut back but sometimes you can’t cut back on your mortgage payment.”

Both looked to Ottawa for help and on Wednesday, the federal government announced $82 billion of aid will be available for people like Pushor and Johnson-Charette.

READ MORE: Trudeau unveils $82B in aid for families, business amid coronavirus uncertainty

For Canadians without paid sick leave or access to employment insurance sickness benefits, the government is introducing a new Emergency Care Benefit that will provide up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks.

The benefit, which the government estimates could cost up to $10 billion, is for workers who must self-isolate, those who are caring for a family member sick with COVID-19 and parents who are unable to earn income while schools are closed as a result of child-care duties.

Applications for the benefit will be available in April, the government said.

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Ottawa will also be extending income supports to workers who lose their jobs or see their hours reduced as a result of the pandemic.

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The Canada Revenue Agency will provide up to $5 billion for unemployed workers without access to EI through the new Emergency Support Benefit.

To help prevent layoffs, the government is also eyeing a measure that would provide businesses struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19 with a subsidy equal to 10 per cent of employee wages, up to $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa will also temporarily boost the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) over the coming months. The government is proposing to boost the maximum annual CCB payment amounts by $300 per child for the 2019-20 benefit year.

They are steps employers and employees cautiously welcome.

“I think it’s going to help a lot,” Pushor said. “I think it’s going to help us with our bare minimums, to be able to just get by.”

Her employee, Johnson-Charette agrees. She says she wasn’t eligible for EI before. She’ll try to take advantage of these new programs but “what I worry about is how long it takes to get that money.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Edmonton looking at property tax, utility bill deferrals in light of COVID-19

Down the street from Pushor, another family-run, home-based business also welcomes any help.

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Jennifer and Stephan Doucet own Weizer Plumbing and say their work is drying up. People are wary about inviting contractors into their homes and Jennifer expects to lose half her normal business in April.

As a result, the couple won’t be hiring more people, like they usually do in the spring. Instead, they’re going to do what they can to keep the one employee they do have.

The money promised by government will help a little to keep staff. The 10 per cent wage subsidy won’t hurt, but if things are getting so bad that they’re considering layoffs, the Doucets say a 10 per cent subsidy might not be enough to save jobs.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How the Trudeau government and provinces are helping renters

It’s still early and the couple say they have to crunch the numbers.

“We’ll just have to wait until we get more specific numbers and we’ll sit down as a company and make those decisions,” said Jennifer Doucet.

The biggest concern for the Doucets and for Pushor and Johnson-Charette surrounds how long the economic pain might last.

If everyone around the world is cooped up in their homes, buying very little for months to come, they worry COVID’s economic pain might outlast the government aid.

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