Canada broadens $300-a-week COVID-19 benefit as Omicron prompts new restrictions

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: New financial support for Canadian businesses, workers hit by Omicron'
COVID-19: New financial support for Canadian businesses, workers hit by Omicron
WATCH: New federal dollars have been earmarked to support struggling businesses and workers amidst the Omicron variant-fueled outbreak. But as Anne Gaviola reports, some say it's too little, too late – Dec 22, 2021

The government is expanding eligibility for its Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit amid new Omicron-related COVID-19 restrictions, allowing any worker to apply for the support if their workplace has been slapped with capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more.

The announcement comes after provinces across the country have hit bars, restaurants and other workplaces with new restrictions — but no lockdowns — to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant. Last Thursday, there were more than 43,000 active COVID-19 cases across Canada. Just six days later, there are more than 72,000.

“We’re temporarily expanding eligibility for key programs. For the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit and the Local Lockdown program, you will be able to apply if you’re subject to capacity-limiting restrictions,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

“Here’s the bottom line: we need, all of us, (to) do what it takes so Canadians are protected and to have what you need to weather the storm.”

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Still to early to say whether Omicron variant is less severe than Delta, WHO says'
COVID-19: Still to early to say whether Omicron variant is less severe than Delta, WHO says

Eligible workers can receive $300 — $270 after taxes — for each one-week period until May 7, 2022. The expanded eligibility, however, only applies until Feb. 12, 2022.

To get the benefit, you’ll also need to have lost 50 per cent or more of your income as a result of these capacity limits, according to the government.

Before the announcement, the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit only applied to regions where a COVID-19 lockdown order had been designated. According to the government of Canada’s website, however, no regions in Canada meet the criteria right now — which meant that applications were “not available.”

Bill C-2, which brought this new benefit to life, became law last Friday. The benefit is the government’s latest temporary income support for Canadians who can’t work because of the pandemic. It follows past programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB).

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The government’s website says the “easiest way” to apply for the CWLB is online, through “CRA My Account.”

Businesses are also going to get a boost in their COVID-19 supports, the government announced on Wednesday. The Local Lockdown Program will also expand to include any employers that are subject to restrictions that cap their capacity at 50 per cent or more.

Employers that are eligible for this program will receive wage and rent subsidies that can range from 25 per cent to a maximum of 75 per cent, depending on how much revenue they lost as a result of the capacity limits.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Freeland discusses details, qualifications for $300-a-week benefit'
COVID-19: Freeland discusses details, qualifications for $300-a-week benefit

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned Wednesday that COVID-19 cases are continuing to surge across the country.

While Canada averaged 5,000 new cases per day at the end of last week, she said that on Tuesday alone, there were 11,300 new cases. Over 2,360 cases of the Omicron virus have been found in Canada.

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Provinces have put in place a number of new restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Ontario slapped a 50 per cent capacity limit on bars and restaurants on Friday, as well a new 10 person limit on indoor social gatherings, among a number of other new measures. Then, on Monday, Quebec announced that bars, cinemas, concert halls, gyms and spas had to close.

On Tuesday, British Columbia followed suit, shutting down its bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios across the province.

Thanks to the language of Bill C-2, the government was able to immediately expand its COVID benefits in reaction to these new restrictions — without having to pass any new legislation. As part of C-2, the government gave itself regulatory authorities that allowed it to temporarily expand the definition of a “lockdown,” Freeland explained.

She said they expanded that definition to include capacity limits of 50 per cent or more.

“These expanded federal support measures will ensure that provinces and public health authorities across the country can continue to make the right difficult decisions they need to make to save lives,” Freeland said.

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“The federal government will be there to financially support workers and businesses as we finish this fight.”
However, Freeland made it clear that these funds must be used to support employees and business to stay afloat — not to line the pockets of executives and investors.

“Public companies receiving the wage subsidy through these support programs that increase their top executive compensation in 2022 compared to 2019 will have this wage subsidy support clawed back,” she said.

“These companies will also become ineligible if they pay dividends while receiving the wage subsidy.”

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