Enamul Hafiz Latifee reports,
Students and recent graduates who have seen their education and job prospects hampered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will soon be able to claim a new Canada Emergency Student Benefit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced on Wednesday, 22 April 2020, as part of a $9 billion package of new measures aimed at helping young people.
The benefit will see eligible postsecondary students receive $1,250 a month from May to August, and if you are taking care of someone else or have a disability, that amount increases to $1,750 monthly, he said.
College and university students currently in school, planning to start in September, or who graduated in December 2019 are eligible.
As well, working students earning less than $1,000 per month can apply.
“COVID-19 has meant that there aren’t as many jobs out there for students, and without a job, it can be hard to pay for tuition or the day-to-day basics. You might normally have turned to your parents for help, but right now mom and dad are stretched, too,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau said the benefit will require additional legislation and talks are now underway about how quickly a bill to implement this new program can be brought forward.
In Wednesday’s update on COVID-19 measures from Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said new student jobs and grants are also on their way.
Specifically, the federal government is also:
- Creating an additional 76,000 jobs for young people in sectors that need an extra hand right now, or that are on the frontlines of this pandemic which could include contact tracing or helping out on farms;
- Investing $291.6 million to extend scholarships, fellowships, and grants for three or four months to keep research projects and placements going, including for postdoctoral fellowships.
- Broadening eligibility for financial assistance and raising the maximum weekly amount that can be provided to a student in 2020-21 from $210 to $350.
- Launching a new Canada Student Service Grant of between $1,000 and $5,000 for students volunteering in the COVID-19 fight to go towards their fall tuition;
- Providing $75.2 million to specifically increase support for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nation students; and
- Doubling the Canada Student Grants for all eligible full-time students to up to $6,000 and up to $3,600 for part-time students in 2020-21. The Canada Student Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities and Students with Dependents are also being doubled.
“To all the students watching today, let me say this: As you’re building your future, thinking about how to contribute, about starting a family or career, all of a sudden you’re faced with a massive crisis… These measures will help you get through this, so that you can build that career and the future that you’ve been looking forward to, that we’ve been looking forward to for you,” Trudeau said.
“On the other side of this, when the economy comes roaring back you will define our path forward.”
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said that the government wanted to put new incentives in place for students who spend the summer volunteering because the need is there, but it will also reduce the number of young people who are “sitting around” this summer.
Will not solve all problems
While the news of more aid is being welcomed by student groups, “we don’t expect it to solve all the problems that students are going to have over the summer,” said Adam Brown, chair of the University of Alberta students’ union, and chair of the board of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
“It’s a very stressful time overall for students. A lot of students have moved home, a lot of international students are still in Canada because potentially there’s a worse situation in their home country, so it’s very unpredictable right now,” he said in an interview on CTV News Channel.
Brown said that while it will help cover rent and food over the summer, come the fall another conversation will be needed about next steps.
Looming large is the question of whether or not schools will even be able to resume classes come September, with many having to develop contingency plans, especially for courses that are typically held in large lecture halls with more than 100 students.
The new funds will be available for Canadians studying in Canada, as well as students who are completing postsecondary schooling abroad, her office clarified. Non-citizens, such as international students, cannot claim the emergency benefit.
However, international students are going to be allowed to work more than the current maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session, provided they are working in an essential service or function, such as health care, critical infrastructure, or the supply of food or other critical goods.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who continues to advocate for a universal emergency benefit rather than continuing the rollout of targeted and varying amounts for different groups, said in a statement that he is glad more help is coming for students but “another complicated system is not what students need.”
Singh also took issue with the fact that these new supports won’t come into effect until next month.
“It makes no sense that a parent that has to take care of their children can apply for the CERB and get $2,000, but a parent that is also a student will only get between $1,250 and $1,750. Feeding your kids costs the same,” he said.
These new measures come after some students had voiced concerns that they were not eligible for the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which requires applicants to have earned at least $5,000 in the past year, which isn’t the case for all completing post-secondary studies.
Qualtrough said that the government chose the amount—which is less than those who are eligible for the CERB are receiving— with the fact in mind that other financial supports are available for students.
The federal government has committed to closing some of the gaps that have been identified with the emergency aid program amid criticism that many Canadians were left out. The government said that their initial focus would be on getting money to as many people as possible and fine-tuning the criteria later.
Already, the federal government has announced temporary changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program to help students find work in a largely locked-down country once their summer begins.
Through that program, employers who hire summer students can apply for a subsidy of up to 100 percent of the provincial or territorial hourly minimum wage. This is aimed at helping create up to 70,000 jobs for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 30, and giving them work experience and an income, the government says.
As well, at the end of March 2020, the National Student Loans Service Centre paused student loan repayments for six months, interest-free.
More help coming for seniors
Trudeau said on Wednesday to expect more help for seniors in the coming days, citing concerns about their long-term savings, and their cost of living rising.
“We are working right now on measures for seniors, I want to thank the other parties who have made excellent suggestions and we will have more to announce in the coming days,” he said.
Later, on Wednesday, 22 April 2020, Ontario joined Quebec in calling for military help inside long-term care homes.
The prime minister continuing to roll out expansions and updated financial assistance indicates, as Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam continues to say, that the economy is still weeks away from reopening.
Though, the measures in place appear to have been effective in avoiding an “explosive outbreak” Tam said on Tuesday, 21 April 2020. Nonetheless, she’s encouraging all sectors of society to start thinking now about how they could adapt their day-to-day activities to maintain physical distancing until there is a treatment or vaccine for the virus.