With tens of thousands of British Columbians facing layoffs, work stoppages or business closures due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many are wondering how they will make ends meet.
Both the federal and provincial government have pledged stimulus packages to help Canadians get through the coming months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced an $82-billion financial aid package, worth three per cent of Canada’s GDP.
British Columbia has announced a $5-billion aid package worth about three per cent of the province’s GDP.
Premier John Horgan said B.C.’s plan would be designed to fill gaps or top up areas where federal assistance wasn’t enough.
Here’s what we know about financial supports available to British Columbians so far.
The federal government has waived the one-week Employment Insurance waiting period of Canadians who are sick, quarantined or must stay home to care for children but don’t have sick pay.
Workers such as restaurant staff laid off due to the business ceasing operation will still need to wait one week to apply for EI.
The federal government is also waiving the need for a medical certificate to get EI.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit will be available for a four month period to Canadians who
- Have lost their job
- Are sick
- Are quarantined
- Are taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19
- Are working parents who must stay home because children are sick or school/ child care is closed
- Wage earners, contract workers, self-employed people who are not eligible for EI
- Workers who are still employed, but not being paid because of work stoppage
The federal government says a portal to accept applications for the benefit will be up and running in early April.
British Columbia is supplementing those federal benefits with a one-time, tax-free $1,000 benefit.
The benefit will be available to people who are eligible for EI or the care or support benefits, and will be available by May.
The province is also boosting the provincial Climate Action tax credit, with a maximum annual hike for an individual of $218 or $564 for a family.
The federal government is also boosting the Canada Child Benefit for 2019-2020 by $300 per child.
Rent and mortgages
It is unclear whether customers will be able to postpone mortgage payments interest-free.
Several of the banks told Global News they would be working with residential and business customers on a case-by-case basis.
On Monday, CMHC announced it would bring back a revised version of the Insured Mortgage Purchase Program it used during the 2008-09 financial crisis, in order to ensure funding for banks and mortgage lenders during the crisis.
The situation with rent is not so clear yet.
The BC Housing has announced a freeze on evictions at social housing facilities, while Premier John Horgan says no renter will be evicted “because of COVID-19.”
There are several rent banks in B.C., operated by non-profit groups or financial institutions like Vancity credit union, that offer low or no-cost emergency loans to renters.
Numerous groups have also called on the province to provide additional rent and mortgage support, and on Tuesday Horgan hinted that such support may be coming in B.C.’s Monday package.
The province has also reconvened its Renters’ Task Force to provide input on how to help, and announcement on a plan is expected on Wednesday, March 25.
The City of Vancouver is allowing a 60 day grace period for all property tax payments. Taxes will be due Sept. 1.
The city is also asking the province to extend its property tax deferral program to small businesses.
The federal government is using the GST tax credit (GSTC) to provide a one-time payout to low income Canadians, which will double the maximum payout for 2019-20.
The government says the payout will average $400 for eligible individuals and $600 for couples.
The federal government has also extended the income tax filing deadline to June 1, 2020.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will allow all taxpayers to defer, until after Aug. 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing between now and September 2020.
British Columbia is delaying the implementation of new taxes on sugary drinks and online telecom providers such as Netflix.
British Columbia is deferring payments on the Employer Health Tax, municipal and regional district tax, tobacco tax, motor fuel tax carbon tax and PST until the end of September.
The province is also cutting the school tax in half for light- and major-industry property classes, at a cost of $500 million. The province says it expects that tax cut to be passed on to business owners with triple-net leases.
The CRA says it also won’t initiate post assessment GST or income tax audits on small or medium-sized businesses for the next month.
B.C. says an additional $1.5 billion economic recovery fund will be used to provide longer-term support to the hardest-hit parts of the economy, including the tourism, hospitality and culture sectors.
New Westminster, which operates its own electrical utility, unveiled its own COVID-19 relief plan, giving customers the option to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans.
BC Hydro unveiled a program earlier this month that will allow customers to defer bill payments or arrange a payment plan with no penalty.
FortisBC is also waiving late payment fees and is pledging not to disconnect customers or any reason. It is also promising to work with customers to come up with flexible payment plans.
Port Coquitlam is waiving the March 31 penalty and extending the deadline for payment of 2020 utility bills.
Coqutilam will not enforce the five per cent penalty for late Utility Bill payments received after March 31. The penalty will apply to amounts unpaid at Sept. 30.
The City of Delta is also allowing residents to defer the late payment penalty deadline for 2020 flat rate utility bills. Under the proposed bylaw, there will be no penalty for late payment of flat rate utility bills until June 1, 2020.
ICBC says it has an existing policy that allows customers to defer a payment once in their term in times of financial hardship.
You can fill out a form for the program here. Customers experiencing financial hardship can also contact ICBC at 1-800-665-6442.
Telus, Rogers, Shaw, Koodo and Freedom Mobile all say they will offer flexible payment plans to customers facing financial hardship.
Rogers and Fido have gone a step further, pledging not to disconnect any customer in financial trouble in the next 90 days.
Rogers is also waiving long-distance fees.
Telus, Rogers, Bell and Shaw have also temporarily dropped their data caps for residential internet usage.
British Columbians worried about making their credit card payments should check directly with their financial institution.
TD Canada Trust, CIBC, National Bank and Scotiabank say they are offering relief to customers on credit products on a case-by-case basis.
Royal Bank is allowing customers to skip a monthly payment.
BMO is allowing a deferral of payment on loans or credit card bills of up to three months.
The federal government is placing a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans.
It was not immediately clear whether the provincial government will offer student loan payment relief.