COVID-19 emergency benefits for employees and employers

The federal government's $102 billion emergency benefit package in response to COVID-19 has multiple reliefs and rebates available to benefit both employees and employers impacted by the pandemic. The package is extensive, and information, including eligibility requirements, continues to be released daily. 

To help those affected understand what benefits are available to them, below is a brief list of each of the options available to both employees and employers, and other groups of people. The majority of these payments will not be paid out until mid-April at the earliest, but some applications are available now. 

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"The package provided by the federal government is significant, especially with the addition of loans of up to $40,000 for eligible businesses that was announced (March 27)," said Julie Ziebart, business advisor and partner with MNP and the 2020 President and Chair of the Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce. “I encourage the local small business owners to reach out to their business advisor for advice, especially given the rapid pace of policy changes and implementation over the coming weeks." 

The emergency benefit package was originally announced earlier in the week.

"There is still much to be done to support our businesses and non-profit organizations through this crisis in order to recover socially and economically, but the COVID-19 Action Plan is a good start, and we appreciate the Provincial Government’s approach in building on the Federal Government’s COVID-19 economic plan, effectively 'filling of the gaps,'" Ziebart said in the Fort St. John Chamber's response to the plan on March 24.

Benefits for Employees

In addition to Employment Insurance, the following options are available to workers that are unable to work as a result of COVID-19, with certain restrictions for each option. 

1. Canadian Emergency Response Benefit - Those who have experienced a work stoppage in any way, and who are ineligible for EI, can apply for this $2,000 a month payment, for four months. This is a taxable payment. 

"This is for people temporarily laid off or unable to work due to COVID-19, and it's designed to be an equalizer for those unable to receive EI," Ziebart said. 

This benefit is not just for people who have been temporarily laid-off. It's also for people who are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone with COVID-19; parents who have to stay home from work to look after their children who are either home sick or because daycares are closed; self-employed people and contract workers who are not eligible for EI. 

People will be able to access this benefit through a secure website, beginning early April. See here for updates.

2. B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers - This is a one-time $1,000 tax-free payment for anyone who has lost income due to COVID-19, whether or not they are receiving EI. It will be paid in May. Applications aren't available yet but will be soon. Check here for updates on when the application will be available and how to access it. 

Renters/ Landlords

1. B.C. Rent Rebates - This is a $500 monthly rebate that will be sent directly to the landlord, with the renter required to make up the rest of the rent payment. This is for low to moderate income families and individuals who have either lost employment to COVID-19 or are required to self-isolate without pay, and who don't currently qualify for other rental assistance programs.

“With lost jobs and lost wages due to COVID-19, many tenants are worried they can’t make the rent. It’s a challenging time for landlords too,” said Premier John Horgan in a press release. “Nobody should lose their home as a result of COVID-19. Our plan will give much-needed financial relief to renters and landlords. It will also provide more security for renters, who will be able to stay in their homes without fear of eviction or increasing rents during this emergency.”

The application process hasn't been implemented yet and the benefit won't be available to renters with payments due on April 1. See here for updates on the rebate and the application process.  

Other measures the province is taking to help out both renters and landlords include halting evictions regardless the reason (landlords are able to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for a hearing if they deam a tenant is a health and safety threat, or a threat to damage property), and freezing annual rent increases during the state of emergency. 

2. Deferring BC Hydro payments - BC Hydro created the COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program to help customers during the pandemic. Call BC Hydro at 1-800-224-9376 to find out if you qualify and go over payment options. Grants of up to $600 are also available through its Crisis Fund for customers facing financial hardship due to job loss or illness.

Taxes

1. Tobacco, motor fuel, PST, and carbon tax - If your business remits any of these taxes, those payments are deferred to September 30.

Employers

1. Temporary Wage Subsidy - This is a 75% wage subsidy from the federal government, for up to three months, dating back to March 15, 2020. This was originally announced as a 10% wage subsidy, but was changed significantly on March 27. As a result, details on which businesses qualify and how they can claim this subsidy have yet to be released. See here for updates on eligibility details.

"10% wasn't enough, it wasn't enough of an incentive for some companies not to lay off people," said Ziebart. "Hopefully, those businesses that have already laid off employees may be able to rehire them quicker now because of this subsidy."

2. Relief for employers health tax - The B.C. government is deferring these filings and payments until September 30.

3. Deferring GST payments - Businesses can now defer GST payments until June 1 (but GST still has to be reported on time).

4. Business property tax relief - Businesses that own commercial property classified as Class 4, 5, or 6 under the B.C. assessment, will get relief on their property taxes by reducing the school tax rate by 50%.

5. Canada Emergency Business Account - Businesses and not-for-profits that paid between $50,000 and $1 million in payroll in 2019 can apply for a loan of up to $40,000 through certain banks. The loan will be interest free for the first year, and if the business pays off the balance by the end of 2022, a quarter of the initial loan will be forgiven. 

Additional details and information on how to access the program will be available soon. See here for updates.

Each of these benefits has eligibility requirements that may not be listed here. 

Email reporter Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca

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