OTTAWA — Canadians forced to miss work because of COVID-19 can start applying for financial support from the federal government Monday.
The new benefits come amid concerns about new lockdowns and job losses as governments try to get a handle on the growing number of new cases and prevent health-care systems from being overwhelmed.
They also follow a bitter political fight in Ottawa that saw all parties support the multibillion-dollar suite of new benefits despite misgivings about how it was rushed through Parliament by the Liberal government.
“It is vital that Canadians have access to income support that reflects the impacts the pandemic has on their employment,” National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said in a statement on Sunday.
The new caregiver benefit responds to numerous calls since the pandemic started for more support for parents and others who are forced to miss work to care for a dependent due to COVID-19.
Women in particular have seen a disproportionate impact on their careers and earnings because of the pandemic, with many shouldering much of the burden in terms of child care and home schooling.
Canadian households will be able to apply for $500 per week for up to 26 weeks when one person misses more than half a week of work because they have to care for a child because of the illness.
That includes children whose schools or daycares are closed due to COVID-19, and children who are forced to miss school or daycare because they have contracted the virus or may have been exposed.
The benefit, which Canadians can apply for through the Canada Revenue Agency, also applies to people forced to miss work to care for family members whose specialized care is unavailable due to COVID-19.
The federal government anticipates 700,000 Canadians will apply for the caregiver benefit.
Canadians will also be able to access a new sick-leave benefit that pays up to $1,000 over two weeks for those unable to work because they have contracted COVID-19 or are forced to self-isolate because of the virus.
Ottawa expects 4.4 million Canadians to apply for sick leave.
The federal NDP had made the creation of a sick-leave benefit for workers a condition for it to support the Liberals’ effort to fast-track billions of dollars in new COVID-19 relief through Parliament last week.
The package included the two new programs and a third replacing the $500-per-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the main support program for those unable to work due to COVID-19.
Canadians can start applying for the new Canada Response Benefit, which will also pay $500 per week for up to 26 weeks, starting Oct. 12.
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff on Sunday welcomed the new caregiver and sick-leave benefits as long overdue for Canadian workers whose employers don’t offer such support.
They are also timely given the rising number of cases in different parts of the country, he said. More than 1,600 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Sunday, even though some provinces did not provide updated numbers.
The figures have prompted fears of looming lockdowns in some areas.
“It’s really a blessing for a lot of people who are going to need them,” Yussuff said of the new benefits.
“People are going to have the security of having an income if they have to take time off, and not have to worry about not being able to pay their rent or buy groceries or whatever their needs might be.”
Yet even as he welcomed the new benefits, Yussuff noted they are only temporary and that COVID-19 has underlined the need for permanent caregiver and sick-leave support even after the pandemic.
“While these benefits are temporary in nature, they also speak to the fact that millions go to work every day without having sick leave or access to family-care leave,” he said.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly described the new caregiver and sick-leave benefits as “entirely reasonable” given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic.
Yet he expressed concern about any move making the measures permanent, suggesting businesses will be forced to shoulder much of the financial burden in the form of increased EI premiums or taxes.
“Any of those changes will have to come from the pockets of employers that are already empty,” Kelly said, adding that the vast majority of small businesses have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2020.