The federal government is extending many of its emergency COVID-19 benefits as the pandemic rages on, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.
Sickness benefits, caregiving benefits and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) are all getting top-ups when it comes to the duration during which each can be claimed — meaning Canadians will be able to access financial help for an even longer stretch of time.
The total cost of these beefed-up benefits will be $12.1 billion, the government confirmed on Friday.
“To begin with, we are extending the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit by 12 weeks. That makes the new maximum that you can claim 38 weeks in total,” Trudeau said, speaking in a Friday press conference.
Trudeau added that the government is also increasing the EI availability to 50 weeks in total, meaning an additional 24 weeks can be claimed. Trudeau also said the $500 per week Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is getting a boost, from covering two weeks of missed work to a new total of four weeks.
“No one should be going to work sick right now. It’s that simple,” Trudeau said.
Prior to this change, both the CRB and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) were only available for a total of 26 weeks. The new announcement will allow Canadians to access an additional 12 weeks of either benefit, which each offer the recipients $500 per week.
The freshly extended CRB is available to anyone who isn’t eligible for EI but has stopped working or had their income reduced by at least 50 per cent due to COVID-19.
The CRCB, on the other hand, is given out by household and covers those who are unable to work for at least half of the week because they have to take care of their kids or a family member due to school or care facility closures. It also covers those who have to stay home with sick children or family members, or who are quarantining.
The sickness benefit covers anyone who has to stay home for at least half the week because they’ve caught COVID-19 or are self-isolating for reasons related to COVID-19.
“If you need support while you look for a job, or if you have to stay home to take care of family, these benefits will continue to be there for you,” Trudeau said.
In the wake of Trudeau’s announcement, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough called on the provinces to beef up their benefits in lockstep with the federal government.
“Paid sick leave has been a key component of our public health response from the beginning,” Qualtrough said, speaking to reporters in a Friday press conference.
“I would urge provinces to step up for workers and do their part like some of their colleagues have.”
The prime minister’s announcement comes on the heels of grim warnings from federal public health officials that Canada’s recent decline in COVID-19 cases is under threat from new variants.
Modelling released Friday morning shows a steep spike in cases should restrictions be relaxed too soon.
“With the emergence and spread of new variants of concern… unless we maintain and abide by stringent public health measures, we may not be able to avert a rapid resurgence of the epidemic in Canada,” Theresa Tam, Canada’s top doctor, said at a virtual press conference.
Canada has so far logged 700 cases with “variants of concern” (VOC), predominately the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K. All 10 provinces have reported cases, and five of those have evidence of community spread.
The decision to expand the benefits also comes hours after labour groups warned the government of a looming benefits cliff late next month when Canadians receiving EI or the recovery benefits would start maxing out their eligibility with job prospects bleak or non-existent.
The Canadian Labour Congress and other groups asked the Liberals to extend eligibility for benefits at least until the end of the year, which is how long they believe it might take before the workers in hardest-hit industries get back on the job.
Meanwhile, Canadians are anxiously waiting their turn to receive the coronavirus vaccine, which could help to usher in economic reopenings and, in turn, get Canadians back to work. The vaccine rollout is expected to ramp up later this year, with the Trudeau government standing firm on its promise that there will be enough vaccines for all Canadians who want one by September.
However, that rollout has been off to a slow start when compared to countries such as the U.K. and the U.S., and has been hampered by reductions in deliveries amid overwhelming global demand.
Still, Trudeau reiterated on Friday that the government’s vaccination effort is “in the ramp-up phase.”
“Hundreds of thousands of doses arriving each week means hundreds of thousands more people protected from COVID-19,” Trudeau said.
“That’s what I’m focused on – you, your family and your community. Every Canadian who wants a vaccine will have one by the end of September.”
— With files from Global News reporter Rachael D’Amore and The Canadian Press.