March 26, 2020

Media Release: Canadian Emergency Response Benefit: “Promising, but urgent improvements are needed to get support where it’s needed most,” say worker advocates

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Canadian Emergency Response Benefit: “Promising, but urgent improvements are needed to get support where it’s needed most,” say worker advocates

(Toronto, March 26, 2020) -- “The $2,000 per month flat rate - $500 per week - in emergency income support is an urgently-needed step in the right direction,” said Pam Frache, coordinator of the Fight for $15 and Fairness, who was responding to the announced Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. 

According to the news release issued by the Ministry of Finance, the new Emergency Benefit will combine the two previously announced measures (Emergency Care and Emergency Support benefits) and will be available to those affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19, including those not eligible for Employment Insurance. 

“We are heartened to see the government moving to simplify the process for workers needing assistance,” said Frache. “However, we want to remind them that many workers who have already applied for Employment Insurance will be receiving only 55% of previous income - significantly less than $500 per week. These rates are not enough to pay the bills for workers who were in low- or minimum-wage employment. For those who are already receiving EI income support or who have already applied, it’s absolutely crucial their EI weekly benefits be no less than $500 per week,” said Frache. 

“It is vital the new Emergency Benefit reaches the growing number of workers in really precarious situations,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre. “We are really worried that some of the stated program details may exclude workers who are in crisis right now. At the Centre, we are hearing from people who don’t have bank accounts or social insurance numbers; we are assisting newcomers without employment history or tax records; and we work with people who have been forced into the informal economy through no fault of their own.”

“We need to ensure all workers, regardless of income level and immigration status, get the support they need,” said Ladd. “Remember, we need to protect the people who are keeping buildings clean and safe for all of us, delivering food and who are caring for our seniors and our children. Many workers who are providing essential services right now, have no social safety net or even minimum protections under the law.”  

“I’m optimistic we can develop systems that will get the support to workers in need,” said Ladd. “But we must not overlook those in the most desperate situations and who are most vulnerable to getting sick. That’s why we are urging the government to consult with organizations that are on the frontlines in providing supports for these workers. We need to find solutions that will work for everyone.”

Frache agrees. “Whether we are undocumented, whether we are eligible for or receiving EI, or whether we are part of the gig economy, we all deserve immediate access to income supports. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that we can’t protect ourselves unless we protect everyone.” 

The application process for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit will be available in early April and government documents say workers should be receiving their first payment within 10 days of applying. More information about the program details will be released as the regulations are developed.

The Fight for $15 and Fairness continues to call for 21 paid emergency leave days for all workers – 7 paid days permanently and an additional 14 paid days during pandemics. This is especially crucial since the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit appears to be available only to those workers who have been without work for 14 days. Dramatic improvements in access to and the amount of support provided by Employment Insurance are still necessary and must be a priority, including reducing the hours threshold to 360 for all workers.

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For more information or to arrange interviews:
Nil Sendil
Communications Coordinator, Fight for $15 & Fairness
info@15andfairness.org l 647-710-5795

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