Politics

Trudeau announces $9B in financial support for students; critics say pandemic aid must flow faster

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced $9 billion in financial aid for post-secondary students in response to claims that too many young people were falling through the cracks in existing COVID-19 support programs.

Students will be eligible for $1,250 a month from May through August

Many students have lost their summer job prospects because of business closures during the pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is announcing financial aid Wednesday. (Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced $9 billion in financial aid for post-secondary students in response to claims that too many young people were falling through the cracks in existing COVID-19 support programs.

Students will be eligible for $1,250 a month from May through August. That sum can go up to $1,750 if the student is caring for a dependent or has a disability.

The benefit is available also to students who have jobs but are making less than $1,000 a month.

"For a lot of students, the month of May normally marks the start of a summer job. But right now it might be really tough to find something. You may have been looking for weeks without any success," Trudeau said.

Payments will be made through the Canada Revenue Agency.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rolls out new emergency supports for students:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a suite of programs and benefits for students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:30

Trudeau also said students who volunteer over the summer will be paid between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on the hours they work.

"Your energy and your skills can do a lot of good right now," he said.

A government backgrounder document said the funding for volunteer efforts will be available to students "who choose to do national service and serve their communities."

The Prime Minister's Office also confirmed that a student can collect multiple benefits if, for example, they apply for the $1,250 benefit, volunteer and hold a job that pays less than $1,000 a month.

The prime minister also announced the federal government is doubling student grants for eligible students — up to $6,000 for full-time students and up to $3,600 for part-time students.

Other measures announced for students today include:

  • Raising the maximum weekly amount that can be provided through the Canada student loans program in 2020-2021 to $350 from $210.
  • More than $75 million in additional supports for Indigenous post-secondary students.
  • Another $291 million for federal granting councils to extend expiring federal graduate research scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships and supplement existing federal research grants.

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is available to students and anyone else who made at least $5,000 in the last year, but only if they had been working and lost their source of income when COVID-19 struck.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the government recognizes it's going to be a tough summer for students, given their limited employment options. But she said there are many service options available to students and the government is trying to give them an incentive to take on such work through the volunteer grant.

Keeping students 'occupied'

"We're hoping students will find ways to keep themselves occupied, to contribute, to upskill and just to not stay sitting around for the whole entire summer," she said.

The new programs are expected to create 116,000 job placements and other training opportunities to provide students with an income while they acquire skills. Qualtrough said the focus will be on essential services.

Watch: Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough on summer work for students:

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough goes over the types of jobs she hopes the government can line up for students this summer. 0:40

"We're looking at agriculture, we're looking at food services, we're looking at the health sector, we're looking at community opportunities within community service organizations," she said. "The same kinds of jobs that you might find in a regular summer, but tweaked to address the reality that we don't have summer festivals, we don't have recreational summer camps for kids.

"We've been quite creative working with provinces and youth organizations, coming up with ideas, and that's why we're bolstering the number of employment opportunities."

The government must pass legislation to allow the new student benefits to flow.

Raquel Dancho, Conservative critic for diversity, inclusion and youth, said Conservatives welcome the new support for students but said it's taken too long.

"The gaps in the CERB for students have been known for almost a month. Why did this announcement take so long? When will this benefit be available for students who need help now?" she said.

"Canadians have serious questions about the government's handling of the pandemic and are concerned about the lack of support for essential services. We need innovative ways to get our students to work safely, and to support essential service industries facing labour shortages in our communities."

Conservatives will "closely review" the government's proposed legislation, Dancho said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had been pressing the government to make CERB available to students. Today, he suggested the new measures won't be enough, and won't come fast enough.

"New Democrats are glad the government is finally turning its focus to help students, but another complicated system is not what students need and it comes weeks late. They also can't continue to wait until mid-May for help. They need help right away," he said in a statement.

"For weeks, we've been calling on the government to give direct help to everyone. With the Canada emergency response benefit, the government can make the program universal so that no one gets left behind."

Students welcome news

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and the Quebec Student Union said the package will bring "significant relief" to students affected by the pandemic.

"Today's announcement is great news for any student dealing with financial hardship because of COVID-19," said CASA chair Adam Brown in a release.

In a letter to Trudeau on April 15, a coalition of student organizations called on the government to extend CERB to all students and recent graduates, regardless of their employment status and previous income.

"Students and recent graduates who are just starting their careers now face the most uncertain job market since the Great Depression. The devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are being felt across the country," the students wrote.

"While the government's focus has understandably been on ensuring that those who lost their livelihoods in the last few weeks have the support they need to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table, students and recent graduates also find themselves in an extremely precarious financial situation."

The letter said two million students in Canada were already in a dire financial situation before the pandemic, and the COVID-19 crisis has meant many students who rely on summer jobs to pay for tuition, rent and groceries have lost employment.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also announced today that the government is lifting the rule that says international students can work no more than 20 hours a week — provided they work in an essential services such as health care, critical infrastructure or the supply of food or other critical goods.

A release from the department said thousands of international students are studying in fields of health and emergency services and this temporary rule change could provide health care facilities with additional workers "at a time when they are badly needed."

Watch: Trudeau explains what jobs will be available for students:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains what jobs will be available for students through the programs he announced today. 0:23

Earlier this month, Trudeau announced changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program aimed at helping young people get work in sectors that aren't shut down due to the global pandemic. Today, he suggested COVID-19 contact tracing and jobs in farming as examples of employment that could help the country through the crisis.

The changes include a boost to the wage subsidy — up to 100 per cent — an extension of the end date for employment to Feb. 28, 2021, and the inclusion of part-time jobs.

The government estimates that program will create up to 70,000 jobs for youth between 15 and 30 years of age.

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