Manitoba expands wage subsidy program for 2nd time

A wage subsidy program the Manitoba government launched in April and expanded last month, is being expanded once again.

Employers can now get subsidy for up to 10 more newly hired workers, up to maximum of $50K

As Manitoba businesses and communities slowly reopen, it's time to decide whether the mental, economic and societal impacts were worth the lockdown, says a Manitoba public health specialist. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A wage subsidy program the Manitoba government launched for students in April, and expanded last month to include other employees, is being expanded once again.

In June, the program offered up to $5,000 for as many as five employees per business, regardless of the employee's age. Before that, only employees up to age 29 were eligible.

The revamped program, announced Wednesday, will now reimburse up to $5,000 per employee for as many as 10 new workers, to a maximum of $50,000 for any business, not-for-profit or charity, Premier Brian Pallister said.

Businesses that have already benefited from the earlier provincial summer wage subsidies are eligible for the new benefit to hire or bring back an additional 10 employees, he said.

"We would all like this pandemic and its challenges to end, but realistically we know that it will take time for our economy to grow back. And so this program will be needed for a longer period than all of us would hope."

Employers that have received financial support from other provincial and federal programs are also eligible for the expanded wage subsidy, Pallister said.

The program will reimburse half of all wages for employees newly hired from now until Oct. 31. Businesses can apply for the wage subsidy starting July 16 at noon, and have until Jan. 4, 2021, to submit proof of wages.

Jonathan Alward, Prairie director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the revamped wage subsidy program only goes so far for businesses facing cash-flow challenges right now. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Since the program's first expansion, more than 300 Manitoba businesses have applied for approximately $5 million to support 1,000 positions, Pallister said.

"Since the beginning of this pandemic, we knew we had to create opportunities for young Manitobans, and we've created them," he said.

The province posted the second-best job recovery statistics in the country last month, but there are still more than 69,000 Manitobans looking for work, Pallister said.

WATCH | Manitoba expands wage subsidy program again

A wage subsidy program the Manitoba government launched for students in April, and expanded last month to include other employees, is being expanded once again. 2:03

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the expanded aid program is welcome. But Jonathan Alward, the group's Prairie director, said the program only goes so far for businesses facing financial challenges right now.

"Businesses definitely need help to get employees back, so this is a good step," Alward said. 

"Ultimately, though, there are still a lot of businesses facing cash-flow problems, and a lot of the funding for this program is all targeted at the back-end." 

Max's Restaurant in St. James has tapped into the federal government's wage subsidy program to partially cover labour costs for around half of its 13 current employees. The Filipino eatery had 42 workers before the pandemic.

Arnel Alibin, co-owner of Max's Restaurant in Winnipeg, said the expanded wage subsidy is big for business, but he isn't sure if he'll need it. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Co-owner Arnel Alibin said he'd consider using the provincial program to help subsidize employees ineligible for the federal program, provided business warrants the increase in employees.

He said because of public health orders, his dining capacity is half of what it was.

"It will all depend on the needs, really," he said.

$120M still the budget

Manitoba had previously budgeted $120 million for its wage subsidy programs.

Asked Wednesday if the latest program expansions are included in that figure, Pallister said yes, but that he hoped the total budget would actually go higher.

"Some things don't cost, they pay," he said. "And the payback on getting people back to work is enormous."

The goal is to create a V-shaped economic recovery, where the economy bounces back swiftly after its sharp drop.

"The sooner we can do that … then Manitoba is going to be able to have its economy churning out services, new jobs, opportunities for people," he said.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government is missing the mark, and should provide immediate funding to help businesses cover costs for essential supplies, like personal protective equipment. 

"We need to see a real plan to restart our economy that provides essential supports, like direct financial assistance and a plan for child care," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Pallister also announced Wednesday that Manitoba is extending the application deadline for its Gap Protection Program to Aug. 31. The previous deadline was July 31.

Businesses ineligible for federal support can apply for an immediate $6,000 under that program, which has already provided more than $45 million in COVID-19 relief to over 7,600 employers who otherwise had no government support, Pallister said.

WATCH | Premier Pallister on COVID-19 measures in the province  | July 15, 2020:

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister on the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic : July 15 25:26

With files from Ian Froese


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