On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, Parliament passed a $107 Billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses deal with the fallout from COVID-19 — which has shut down businesses and borders around the world.
The Government of Canada’s response to COVID-19 complements and is integrated into the broader pandemic public health and safety measures of the provinces and territories.
Covid-19 Funding Specific to Indigenous Communities
Indigenous communities face elevated risks from a COVID-19 outbreak because of residential overcrowding and the prevalence of diabetes and other underlying medical conditions, along with a pre-existing shortage of nursing staff and access to health care. A lack of clean drinking water is also one of the factors that makes Indigenous communities disproportionately vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks.
In order to support Indigenous Communities, the Government announced two funding tracks through which resources can be accessed.
A. $100 Million available immediately to Indigenous communities. These funds are meant to:
- Respond to identified needs to update and/or activate pandemic plans.
- Support an effective allocation of the limited public health and primary health care capacity to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Align response efforts with scientific evidence as determined by a medical officer of health.
- Address immediate needs in the short term.
B. $305 Million for a New Indigenous Community Support Fund
- This fund will be allocated on a distinctions-basis and will provide leadership with the ability to make choices that work for their communities.
- Funding will be used to both proactively address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities as well as respond to emerging needs as they arise.
- For instance, funds can be used for COVID-19 related expenses ranging from purchasing supplies to covering travel expenses and repurposing community buildings for medical care, isolation sites and storage space.
- Funding will begin to flow in short order through existing mechanisms.
Distribution/Breakdown of the Indigenous Community Support Fund
- $215 million for First Nations: allocated to each First Nation based on population, remoteness and community well-being.
- $45 million for Inuit, which will flow to each of the four land claims organizations through an allocation determined by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and regional Inuit land claims organizations.
- $30 million for Métis Nation communities, which will flow through each of the Governing Members.
- $15 million for regional and urban Indigenous organizations supporting their members living away from their communities, and to regional organizations such as Friendship Centres and the Métis Settlements General Council of Alberta.
- British Columbia
- First Nations will receive $41,129,000
- Métis will receive $3,625,000
- First Nations will receive $26,267,000
- Métis will receive $7,250,000
- First Nations will receive $30, 189,000
- Métis will receive $7,250,000
- First Nations will receive $35,974,000
- Métis will receive $7,250,000
- First Nations will receive $37,580,000
- Métis will receive $3,625,000
- First Nations will receive $24,886,000
- Inuit will receive $11,250,000
- First Nations will receive $10,559,000
- Inuit will receive $5,355,000
- First Nations will receive $2,379,000
- Northwest Territories
- First Nations will receive $6,033,000
- Yukon and Northwest Territories
- Inuit will receive $5,850,000
- Inuit will receive $22,545,000
- Indigenous organizations
- Regional, urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations will receive $15,000,000 through an upcoming call for proposals
- Métis National Council will receive $1,000,000
Additional Public Health-Related Emergency Supports:
The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) also provides funding and expertise to First Nations communities for developing and maintaining their all -hazard or pandemic plans in all provinces (except British Columbia – where Nations fall under the First Nation’s Health Authority).
On-reserve communities requiring assistance in updating their plans should contact their Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) regional office.
Recognizing the increased demand globally and across Canada for “surge” health capacity and supplies, communities are encouraged to take a collaborative and coordinated approach to organizing surge capacity and procuring supplies wherever possible with neighboring communities, local public health authorities or through Tribal Councils or First Nations Regional Health Authorities.
There is no deadline for communities. The funding will flow as quickly as possible through existing agreements.
The deadline for the call for proposals for regional, urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations will be announced soon.
How it Works
Communities do not need to make distinct applications. Funding will be transferred to communities and Band councils from ISC regional offices through existing agreements.
Regional, urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations will need to apply through a call for proposals, the details of which will be available soon.
While it is difficult to know exactly how, when or where COVID-19 might affect communities, it is important for all First Nations to be prepared by updating and testing their all-hazard/pandemic plans.
Given the current COVID 19 pandemic and the particular vulnerabilities of Indigenous Communities, there are some important Next Steps to consider:
1. Assess Needs, Risks and Access Funding
- First Nations can currently access the existing 100M envelope. This funding is already available.
- Requests based on public health advice and need should be submitted to the Regional office of Indigenous Services Canada.
- Revisit your current Emergency Plans and pandemic plans, consider community needs and evaluate risks.
- Track all COVID-19 related supply needs such as masks, gloves, water, medications and other basic necessities and contact regional Indigenous Services Canada Office with requests.
- Track all spending related to COVID 19 expenditures
2. Protect Employees and the Health and Safety of Community Members
- Protect your work force and advise those non-essential employees to stay at home.
- Where possible, enable employees to work remotely.
- Keep track of expenses related to related to COVID-19: social distancing, work from home, paid benefits to employees etc.
- Advise members who are exhibiting symptoms, or who have been exposed to others who may be exhibiting symptoms to self- isolate for a period of at least 14 days.
- Ensure you have policies, procedures, safety and cleaning protocols in place as well as training to protect the health your employees who remain at work.
- Consider extra safety measures for the health care workers in your community and those most vulnerable.
- Consider regulations to control traffic into and out of the community.
- Ensure plans are in place for the continuation of essential services such as water sanitation.
3. Assist/Advise Members on Income Support and other Programs Generally Available
- We have listed some of the programs and proposed programs below which are available to all Canadians. For a complete list of the Government’s initiatives to help Canadians through the COVID crisis please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html
Those members without paid sick leave (or similar workplace accommodation) who are sick, quarantined or forced to stay home to care for children may apply for EI sickness benefits. Currently Canada has :
- waived the one-week waiting period for individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. This temporary measure is in effect as of March 15, 2020.
- Waived the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits.
- People who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.
- Established a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period: Telephone: 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free)
- Members may apply on-line through the following website: (https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-sickness/apply.html).
Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB):
This taxable benefit would provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadians may apply for this benefit which would provide up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This flat-payment Benefit provides income support to:
- Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
- Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not quality for EI sickness benefits.
- Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.
- The CERB would apply to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).
Application for the Benefit will be available in April 2020, and require Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility requirements. They will need to re-attest every two weeks to reconfirm their eligibility. Members may select one of three channels to apply for the Benefit:
- by accessing it on their CRA MyAccount secure portal;
- by accessing it from their secure My Service Canada Account; or
- by calling a toll-free number equipped with an automated application process
If you are already receiving EI:
- Canadians who are already receiving EI regular and sickness benefits as of today would continue to receive their benefits and should not apply to the CERB.
- If their EI benefits end before October 3, 2020, they could apply for the CERB once their EI benefits cease, if they are unable to return to work due to COVID-19
- Canadians who are eligible for EI regular and sickness benefits would still be able to access their normal EI benefits, if still unemployed, after the 16-week period covered by the CERB.
Work-sharing is a program to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary decrease in business activity beyond the control of the employer. The program provides EI benefits to eligible employees who agree to reduce their normal working hours and share the available work while their employer recovers. Work-Sharing is an agreement between employers, employees and the Government of Canada which is intended to provide the following benefits:
- retain qualified and experienced workers, and
- avoid recruiting and training new employees
- keep their jobs, and
- maintain their work skills
Key Program Features
- All members of a WS unit agree to reduce their hours of work by the same percentage and to share the available work.
- The reduction of hours can vary from week to week, as long as the average reduction over the course of the agreement is between 10% to 60%.
- A WS agreement has to be at least 6 consecutive weeks long and can last up to 26 consecutive weeks- with an opportunity to extend to a total of 76 weeks.
Income Support for Individuals in Need:
For over 12 million low- and modest-income families, who may require additional help with their finances, the Government is proposing a one-time special payment by early May 2020 through the Goods and Services Tax credit (GSTC). This will double the maximum annual GSTC payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year. The average boost to income for those benefitting from this measure will be close to $400 for single individuals and close to $600 for couples.
Canada Child Benefit:
The Government is proposing to increase the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payment amounts, only for the 2019-20 benefit year, by $300 per child. The overall increase for families receiving CCB will be approximately $550 on average; these families will receive an extra $300 per child as part of their May payment.
Canada Student Loans:
Canada is proposing a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for all individuals currently in the process of repaying these loans.
Registered Retirement Income Funds:
Canada plans to reduce required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) by 25% for 2020, in recognition of volatile market conditions and their impact on many seniors’ retirement savings.
Reaching Home initiative:
Providing $157.5 million to continue to support people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak. The funding could be used for a range of needs such as purchasing beds and physical barriers for social distancing and securing accommodation to reduce overcrowding in shelters.
Supporting Women and Children Fleeing Violence:
Providing up to $50 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help with their capacity to manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities. This includes funding for facilities in Indigenous communities.
Flexibility for Taxpayers:
The Canada Revenue Agency will defer the filing due date for the 2019 tax returns of individuals, including certain trusts. until June 1, 2020.
Role of Financial Institutions:
Banks in Canada have affirmed their commitment to working with customers to provide flexible solutions, on a case-by-case basis, for managing through hardships caused by recent developments. This may include situations such as pay disruption, childcare disruption, or illness. Canada’s large banks have confirmed that this support will include up to a 6-month payment deferral for mortgages, and the opportunity for relief on other credit products.
Mortgage Default Management Tools:
The Government, through CMHC, is providing increased flexibility for homeowners facing financial difficulties to defer mortgage payments on homeowner CMHC-insured mortgage loans. CMHC will permit lenders to allow payment deferral beginning immediately.
Helping Businesses Keep their Workers:
To support businesses that are facing revenue losses and to help prevent lay-offs, the government is proposing to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Businesses will be able to benefit immediately from this support by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld on their employees’ remuneration. Employers benefiting from this measure will include corporations eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities.
More details regarding these initiatives should become available shortly and we will keep you posted on developments as they occur.