British Columbia

B.C.'s $5B COVID-19 relief plan includes one-time payments to people out of work

The B.C. government has announced a $5-billion economic action plan to help families and businesses struggling financially through the COVID-19 crisis, including one-time payments of $1,000 to people who are now out of work.

$1,000 one-time, tax-free payment to people whose ability to work has been affected by the outbreak

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James announces a $5-billion economic relief plan to support families, businesses and economic recovery in response to COVID-19. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The B.C. government has announced a $5-billion economic action plan to help families and businesses struggling financially through the COVID-19 crisis, including one-time payments of $1,000 to people who are now out of work.

Premier John Horgan said the new plan has set aside $2.8 billion to immediately help people pay the bills and fund the services the public needs to get through the crisis, such as health care. The other $2.2 billion is allocated as relief for businesses and, eventually, their recovery after the pandemic.

Finance Minister Carole James told reporters that the $1,000 Emergency Benefit for Workers will be available to people who have been laid off, those who are sick or quarantined and those who've had to stay home to care for their children or sick family members.

Anyone receiving federal Employment Insurance  — as well as anyone receiving the new Emergency Care and Emergency Support Benefits for people who don't qualify for EI — will be eligible to apply.

"It will be an application process that will be very straightforward," James said Monday. "You will simply be able to … show that you have applied and reach that criteria, and then we'll be able to send the cheque out."

She added that she hopes everything will be in place in time for cash to start flowing in May.

The other specifics announced Monday include:

  • A six-month freeze on student loan payments.
  • Postponed tax increases that were scheduled for April 1.
  • Postponed tax deadlines for businesses.
  • An increase in the B.C. Climate Action Tax Credit for July 2020.

Details of a much-anticipated plan to help renters who are out of work were not announced Monday, but the premier says more information is expected Wednesday.

Watch: B.C. Premier John Horgan outlines measures to help people and businesses:

The B.C. premier unveiled upcoming legislation to protect renters and workers affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 0:52

James said the plan is the government's first step to address immediate needs and a response that will continue to "evolve as the situation evolves," in concert with federal initiatives.

"We know there's more to do. The pandemic will present extraordinary hurdles for all of us," James said Monday.

James said the plan focuses on three areas: providing immediate financial relief to families, protecting the safety of British Columbians and frontline health-care workers and laying the groundwork for the economy's recovery down the road.

Support for renters, workers

Of the $2.8 billion for people and services, a statement said $1.1 billion will boost the income of people affected by COVID-19 — whether they be dealing with illness, financial strain or precarious employment.

"We know there are people unable to work who need help paying their rent and bills," said James.

A traffic sign promoting staying at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic is pictured on Highway 1 in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Apart from the $1,000 payment for those who are now out of work, the province is also promising an enhanced Climate Action Tax Credit, which the government says would benefit up to 86 per cent of British Columbians.

An eligible family of four would receive up to $564 and eligible individuals would receive up to $218 — compared to credits of $112.50 per family and $43.50 per adult.

A woman walks past a graffiti reminder in downtown Vancouver on March 17. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

James said the other $1.7 billion for people and services includes investments in housing and shelter supports, income and disability assistance programs and crucial health services — such as funding for the BC Centre for Disease Control hotline, quarantine costs, lab tests and work underway at the First Nations Health Authority.

James said $50 million will go to the United Way and its Better at Home program, which helps seniors live independently.

No rent moratorium

Missing from the action plan was a universal moratorium on rent payments during the crisis.

"A $1,000, conditional, one-time payment is not going to keep [renters] in their homes. They are at a risk of eviction and they are panicking," read a statement from the Vancouver Tenants' Union.

A man in a condo tower watches the sunset in downtown Vancouver on Friday, as residents across the province were asked to stay home as much as possible. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Asked about renters Monday, the premier said more details on a plan to help renters in B.C. are expected Wednesday.

"No one will lose their apartment because of COVID-19," Horgan said.

The province will continue to fund non-profits, delivery agencies and child-care providers. Licensed child-care providers will receive "enhanced funding" so they can keep their doors open. 

A statement said B.C. is also freezing student loan payments for six months as of March 30. ICBC and BC Hydro are also offering deferred payments.

Support for businesses

The remainder of the plan is set aside to help businesses.

The province said it is extending tax filing and payment deadlines for a number of taxes until Sept. 30, including:

  • PST.
  • Municipal and regional district tax.
  • Tobacco tax.
  • Motor fuel tax.
  • Carbon tax.

Effective immediately, businesses with a payroll over $500,000 can defer their employer health tax payments until the end of September. (Businesses with smaller payrolls are already exempt from paying the tax.)

The government is also postponing a number of new taxes and increases on existing taxes, originally set for April 1.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said Monday the new action plan is meant to help families and the provincial economy through the COVID-19 crisis. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Business and light- and major-industry property classes will see their school tax cut in half. This will provide $500 million in immediate relief for business that own their property and allow commercial landlords to immediately pass savings on to their tenants in triple-net leases.

For the long-term, James said the province has allocated $1.5 billion for economic recovery — especially the tourism, hospitality and culture sectors.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

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