Ontario needs to help people where federal supports fall short: Horwath
Help for students, top-ups for social assistance and low-wage workers proposed by NDP
QUEEN’S PARK — Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Official Opposition New Democrats, wants Ontario to catch people who fall through the cracks with a $2,000 monthly benefit, plus help for students, and top-up payments for low-wage essential workers and those struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Provinces across the country have provided direct funds to fill the gaps, but Ontario has not — and the urgent economic crisis people are facing is causing suffering that will only get worse if the province doesn’t do its part,” said Horwath.
“There are essential workers earning too little to pay the rent. Folks who can’t afford their medications on their support cheque alone. Students whose OSAP funds are nearly gone, and summer job prospects are nil. And many folks who still do not qualify for federal benefits. These Ontarians need the provincial government to help them make it through.”
Horwath said new measures should have been in the government’s emergency bill, including:
- Supplementary Emergency Benefit of up to $2,000 per month for those who fall through the cracks of Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
- Top-up social assistance payments of $300 per month, plus eliminating any clawback triggered by federal emergency benefits.
- Top-up payments for those with reduced income or for whom federal benefits fall short of basic needs, including essential workers with reduced income or earnings of less than $2,000 per month
Income for students
- Supplementary Student Grants for students who are unable to find summer jobs.
- Eliminating assumed student earnings and parental contributions for any student affected by income loss in their households for the purpose of calculating OSAP.
- Full drug coverage through Trillium or the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan for anyone receiving emergency benefits.
Horwath said the NDP will vote in favour of Tuesday’s emergency bill, and allow it to pass immediately, but believes people were hoping the legislation would rescue them from sleepless nights and payments they can’t afford — and it doesn’t.
Horwath and the NDP have also proposed a $2,500 a month rent supplement and other supports for people with reduced income, as well as a number of supports for small businesses — which may be able to access a wage support package form the federal government, but have no help with rent or other overhead costs they still need to cover during the pandemic.
Background: NDP proposals
The NDP has been calling for direct supports to help people and businesses. To date, those constructive proposals have included:
Help with income
- Establish the Ontario Emergency Income program to provide households experiencing unemployment or lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic with $2,000, plus $250 per dependent child, to bridge the gap while waiting for federal supports to arrive.
- Order all utilities to provide interest-free bill deferrals of up to six months to anyone who cites financial need, with penalty-free repayment plans.
- Immediately cancel Time of Use hydro billing.
- Cancel prescription co-payments for seniors.
- Institute an immediate discount of 50 per cent on auto insurance premiums and order the Financial Services Regulatory Authority to institute an auto-insurance grace period to allow for interest-free bill deferrals for all who need it.
Help people keep their home
- Offer a provincially-funded rent subsidy of 80 per cent of a household’s rent, up to $2,500 a month, for each of the next four months, for anyone qualifying for the federal emergency benefit. The money would be paid to the tenant.
- Order a six-month freeze on rent increases.
- Write into law that there can be no evictions, lockouts or disconnections for any reason during the pandemic, nor punished in any way for missing a rent payment, and ban threats of the same.
- Push for a federal moratorium on mortgage foreclosures.
Help vulnerable people
- Create a new stabilization fund for the non-profit sector to provide financial support for non-profits like food banks.
- Designate additional emergency funding for the shelter system, outreach and harm reduction.
- Automatically renew transfer payments to agencies, organizations and programs currently being funded.
- Waive the requirement for Ontario Works recipients to be actively looking for work.
Help small and medium-sized businesses, non-profits and charities
- Provide a 75 per cent rent subsidy, up to $10,000 a month for three months for businesses that have substantially lower income as a result of COVID-19.
- Work with other levels of government to immediately halt the collection of all payroll, property, sales, and income taxes from small and medium-sized business.
- Institute a utility payment freeze.
- Postpone tourism and marketing fees for businesses in the very hard-hit hospitality sector, as requested by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
- Dedicate additional resources to ensure the food supply chain is maintained and responsive to shortages, including direct support to growers and animal agriculture.
- Create a remote-work set up fund for small-businesses — which could help them with things like setting up an online retail operation, or buying laptops and software for their workforce.
- Institute an auto-insurance grace period for taxis and car-sharing drivers.
- Create a designated emergency fund for small businesses and entrepreneurs who have faced historic barriers to accessing traditional capital, as proposed by the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce.
Partner with municipalities
- For municipalities that institute property tax deferrals, ensure the flexibility to defer their remittance of property taxes to the province.
- Provide 100 per cent provincial funding to public health units, so that they are not relying on municipalities for 30 per cent of their funding, especially while municipalities have paused revenue tools like property tax payments.
Background: Financial supports in other provinces
British Columbia provides an Emergency Benefit of up to $1,000. British Columbians living on income and disability assistance who aren’t eligible for emergency federal support programs will receive a $300 crisis supplement for three months, there is increased Climate Tax Credits for low income families, a $500 per month rent supplement, utility bill deferrals, and more.
Quebec offered the Temporary Aid for Workers Program (PATT) to bridge the gap for people who are in isolation, or are supporting people in isolation. They’re also offering a $100 per week top-up for low-wage workers in essential industries, plus loans, training grants and payroll supports for small businesses, and more.
Under the Emergency Isolation Support Program, eligible Albertans received a $1,146 payment for self-isolation, as well as utility bill deferrals, and more.
The Self-Isolation Support Program will provide $450 per week for a maximum of two weeks for residents who are forced to self-isolate, and more.
To bridge the gap until federal help arrives, laid off workers can receive a one-time payment of $900, administered through the Red Cross, plus a $400 benefit for low-income seniors, and more.
A one-time $1,000 payment will bridge the gap until federal supports arrive, and every individual and family member on income assistance will receive an additional $50, and more.
Prince Edward Island
Workers receive $750 to bridge the gap between a layoff and the first federal benefit payments, and as much as $250 a week for workers who have kept their jobs but at reduced hours, plus there is a fund for the self-employed with a maximum payment of $500 per week, and more.