Toronto

Some Toronto workers 'left out' of federal financial support amid COVID-19

Toronto Mayor John Tory says a federal emergency benefit rolling out on Monday will provide "a lot of help to a lot of people" out of work due to COVID-19, but some city workers say the temporary income support has gaps that need to be fixed.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit has gaps that need to be fixed, workers say

Two people wearing masks walk on a downtown Toronto street amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Some Toronto workers say a federal temporary income support program rolling out on Monday has gaps that need to be fixed. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory says a federal emergency benefit rolling out on Monday will provide "a lot of help to a lot of people" out of work due to COVID-19, but some city residents say the temporary income support has gaps that need to be fixed.

The measure is called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and it will provide those who are eligible with $2,000 a month for up to four months. 

Some health-care workers interviewed by CBC Toronto say they are being left out even though they are doing important work.

Justin Vanderleest, owner of a physiotherapy clinic with two locations in Etobicoke, said the eight practitioners at the clinic have moved to serving patients online through Telehealth, but there are far fewer patients these days. At first, revenues dropped by 99 per cent, he said.

The clinic, Citrus Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, has six physiotherapists and two chiropractors. Three of its four administrators were laid off right away. The locations were closed on March 15. One administrator is working at home, while the physiotherapists may have a few appointments a week and are making maybe a couple of hundred dollars a month.

"Our business is going to go bankrupt in a month if the government doesn't change the CERB to allow physiotherapists to collect it while continuing to try to build a virtual caseload through Telehealth and video conferencing," Vanderleest said on Sunday.

"Really, we have to generate some revenue," he said. "What the government needs to do is make the CERB available to people who are trying to build some sort of a Telehealth market."

Justin Vanderleest, owner of a physiotherapy clinic with two locations in Etobicoke, says: 'Our business is going to go bankrupt in a month if the government doesn't change the CERB to allow physiotherapists to collect it while continuing to try to build a virtual caseload through Telehealth and video conferencing.' (Submitted by Justin Vanderleest)

His practitioners are not eligible for the CERB because they are continuing to work. The benefit is offered only to those who have lost all income. The practitioners are also not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) because they are contractors.

According to the government, the subsidy would cover 75 per cent of salaries for qualifying businesses, for up to 3 months, retroactive to March 15.

Vanderleest said the work done by his clinic can keep people who are getting injured in vehicle crashes and in workplace accidents out of hospitals. He said the work is clearly worthwhile during a pandemic.

Linda Hochstetler, a registered social worker and psychotherapist at the Village Healing Centre, said the benefit and wage subsidy will not help her either. 

She is making 25 per cent of her usual pay and thus ineligible for the benefit. As a social worker, she is not allowed to charge the HST and thus ineligible for the wage subsidy. She is not eligible for Employment Insurance because she doesn't pay into it.

She has closed her office but is still serving a few clients over the phone and through video conference.

Linda Hochstetler, a registered social worker and psychotherapist at the Village Healing Centre, says: 'Because we are doing small amounts of work to keep our most at-risk clients serviced, we are being left out of the federal money.' (Submitted by Linda Hochstetler)

"Because we are doing small amounts of work to keep our most at-risk clients serviced, we are being left out of the federal money," Hochstetler said.

"I'm working double as hard and I'm earning a quarter of the money," she added. "If I wanted to, I could see nobody and then qualify for the CERB, but that's ethically not a great choice."

David Whitten, a partner at the law firm Whitten and Lublin Employment Lawyers, said the benefit is designed to help people who cannot work, not for people who have chosen not to work, due to COVID-19. People who cannot work due to the virus include those diagnosed as having it, or whose employer has shut down and temporarily laid them off, or people who have been exposed to the virus and may be infected.

He said the benefit is not there for any leave associated with COVID-19. 

"People appear to be of the opinion that [it's for those who] just don't want to go into work, because they have an irrational belief perhaps that their workplace may expose them to COVID-19 when there is no reason for believing that, no objective evidence to suggest that. They are not eligible for it," Whitten.

"You have to have some evidence that you either were exposed and are now self-isolating, your employer can't continue to employ you because they have been shut down, or you have been diagnosed yourself."

He urges people to apply for EI to top up their income if they are working reduced hours and are eligible.

Whitten said people also need to think about the post-pandemic economy and where they are going to find work when the curve flattens.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged there are gaps in the benefit. 'We hear these concerns and we're seeking solutions and we will continue to work on them.' (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged there are gaps in the benefit.

"We hear these concerns and we're seeking solutions and we will continue to work on them."

For his part, Tory said he strongly supports the introduction of the CERB by the federal government. He described it as "an incredibly welcome measure" that will put money in the pockets of Canadians.

"It will provide a lot of help to a lot of people very quickly," Tory said in a statement.

"It is a timely and substantive response to the crisis many individual Canadians find themselves in through no fault of their own and will help relieve some of the anxiety they are experiencing," he added.

"I hope Canadians follow the registration regime set out by the government, which has set ambitious rollout plans in place and needs co-operation to make them work."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement on Sunday that the federal benefit will help Ontario residents.

"Our government has been in constant contact with our federal counterparts and we have been working hard to coordinate a response that will provide immediate support to the health system and direct supports to businesses and workers," Ford said.

"The reality is the issues we face today will not be the issues we face tomorrow so we are counting on the federal government to continue to work with us to ensure the health and wellbeing of every Ontarian and their family."
 

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