As the coronavirus pandemic ran through 2020 and continues into 2021, the Saskatchewan government is spending a significant chunk of change to help with the financial burden on the province.
Highlighted in its 2021-22 budget released Tuesday, the province has committed $4.8 billion to its COVID-19 economic response as it attempts to return to financial stability.
Nearly $2 billion of that was spent in the 2020-21 fiscal year, while $1.5 billion will be spent in 2021-22 with more than $1.3 billion set aside for 2022-23 and 2023-24.
“This is a significant challenge that requires a significant response. As a result, this year’s deficit will be larger and it will take longer to return to balance than we had anticipated,” said Donna Harpauer, Saskatchewan’s finance minister.
“But we are going to make the investments needed now to protect Saskatchewan people through the end of the pandemic and to drive a strong economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.”
About $448 million is being spent on the 2021-22 Saskatchewan Capital Plan, which provides funds for infrastructure and maintenance projects on things like schools, hospitals and highways.
The province put $405.4 million into the Saskatchewan Capital Plan in 2020-21 and is committing more than $1.1 billion for 2022-23 and 2023-24.
Saskatchewan’s health care sector is receiving $90 million in 2021-22 for testing gear, personal protective equipment and operating costs related to the pandemic.
Read more: What’s new to Saskatchewan in 2021-22 budget
Last year, the province provided the health care sector with $75.6 million. Under the COVID-19 economic response, the health care sector won’t receive funds in the fiscal years of 2022-23 and 2023-24.
The province is providing $20.7 million to its Safe Schools Plan in 2021-22 which is significantly less than the $134.2 million that was spent last year.
The funds will allow school divisions to continue their safe return to classrooms. No additional funds were announced in this year’s budget for 2022-23 and 2023-24.
“Education money doesn’t keep up with the needs of the classroom,” said Ryan Meili, NDP leader. “Teachers continue to deal with more complex classrooms and per-student funding needs are not being kept up with.”
Post-secondary institutions are receiving $30 million in the 2021-22 budget, as part of a $60-million COVID-19 response package and multi-year funding plan provided through the Ministry of Advanced Education.
The province provided $7 million in the 2020-21 budget and will provide $30 million more in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
Immigration And Career Training Supports in Saskatchewan is receiving $27.3 million this year which includes funding for workforce development, the Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities top-up, the Canada-Saskatchewan Job grant, and the Newcomer and Settlement program.
“This budget will protect Saskatchewan people through the pandemic, as more vaccines are received and life begins to return to normal,” Harpauer said.
“This budget will build Saskatchewan by investing in new long-term care facilities, hospitals, schools, highways and vital municipal infrastructure.
“And as our province and our economy emerges from the pandemic, this budget will grow Saskatchewan through incentives and key investments, while keeping life affordable for families.”
The province is providing $5 million to the Saskatchewan Tourism Sector Support Program which helps tourism-related businesses that have experienced a loss of sales revenue of at least 30 per cent.
Left off the budget in 2021-22 and through to 2023-24, under the COVID-19 economic response, were the Canada-Saskatchewan Safe Restart Agreement, Saskatchewan Temporary Wage Supplement Program and U of S Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization.
Small Business Emergency Payment Program, Relief for the Oil and Gas Sector and Agriculture Sector Support will also not be receiving additional funds under the COVID-19 economic response.
However, the government did budget $200 million for its Accelerated Site Closure Program, a three-year, $400-million commitment that extends into 2022-23.
The program provides the oilfield industry with work on site abandonment and reclamation work.
Rebates, tax credits and grants under the COVID-19 economic response
The COVID-19 economic response includes two rebates totaling $459.8 million for Saskatchewan residents — the Auto Fund Recovery Rebate ($285 million) and the SaskPower Customer Rebate Program ($174.8 million).
Announced in February, drivers in the province will receive a one-time rebate of about $285 in May, calculated on a proportion of vehicle premiums paid in the last three years.
SaskPower customers are receiving a one-year, 10 per cent rebate on electricity charges on power bills. Last year, the Crown corporation gave out $85.2 million in rebates through the same program.
The 2021-2022 budget includes $66.4 million for the Home Renovation Tax Credit and $64.6 million for the Small Business Tax Rate Reduction.
The new Home Renovation Tax Credit provides a 10.5 per cent tax credit on up to $20,000 of eligible home renovations done between Oct. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2022, beginning with the 2021 tax year.
The small business tax rate was reduced from 2 to 0 per cent, effective Oct. 1, 2020. The rate will increase to 1 per cent July 1, 2022, and return to 2 per cent on July 1, 2023.
The Emergency Pandemic Support and Gaming Partner Grants are receiving $39 million in this year’s budget. The grants provide pandemic support for First Nations and Métis organizations, and the Community Initiatives Fund.
Further details regarding the COVID-19 economic response outlined in the budget can be found on the province’s website.