***Federal Government Support for Workers re: COVID-19 and Pension Update***
ETFO and other worker representatives recently participated in a conference call with the Federal Government to discuss supports for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government has introduced the following new measures to assist with income support during the pandemic:
1) The Emergency Care Benefit administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will provide up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This benefit would provide income support to:
Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.
The one-week waiting period will be waived for those individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. This temporary measure will be in effect as of March 15, 2020. The requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits will be waived.
Application for the benefit will be available in April 2020 and requires Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility requirements. They will need to re-attest every two weeks to reconfirm their eligibility. Canadians will select one of three channels to apply for the Benefit:
By accessing it on their CRA My Account secure portal;
By accessing it from their secure My Service Canada Account; or
By calling a toll-free number equipped with an automated application process.
2) The Emergency Support Benefit will provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment. It is not yet clear how this will be managed.
The Federal Government is struggling to keep up with the demand for income sustainability. There are 500,000 new claimants for income sustainability which is unprecedented and has put tremendous strain on the Government infrastructure.
They are currently working 14 hours a day, seven days a week to process demands and are looking to automate applications and streamline the process of application.
While there were several unanswered questions, the Government was open to suggestions from worker groups including:
Give money now, ask questions later;
Reduce the hours claimants are required to accumulate;
Do not require job searches while on claim;
Waive the one-week waiting period for all benefit claims (sick leave/regular benefits);
Provide contact personnel at Service Canada for unions to access;
Provide codes to unions rather than only employers; and
Increase the number of weeks available to claimants.
The Government confirmed the following:
All options are on the table;
They are working to operationalize a streamlined automated system focused on processing new claims and renewal of benefits first;
They are updating their COVID-19 page daily www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/campaigns/covid-19-update.html#temporary-wage;
They are working on a Q & A fact sheet;
They understand the education sector issue regarding inability to build hours;
There is a dedicated phone line for questions – 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free), however, it goes to knowledgeable staff at a call centre so wait times are enormous;
Claimants will be able to waive waiting periods once the automated system is updated;
They understand the urgency of the situation;
Many questions still to be answered; and
The Government will not be following up to see if workers have completed job searches.
Regular benefits and special benefits including sick leave benefits will continue to be administered through Service Canada. Individuals will have difficulty accessing Government employees over the phone and should be prepared for long wait times in all instances.
Other Government Initiatives:
· The Goods and Services Tax Credit (GSTC) – The Government is proposing to provide a one-time special payment by early May 2020 through the GSTC. This will double the maximum annual GSTC payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year.
· The average boost to income for those benefitting from this measure will be close to $400 for single individuals and close to $600 for couples. This measure will inject $5.5 billion into the economy.
· Canada Child Benefit (CCB) – The Government is proposing to increase the maximum annual CCB payment amounts, only for the 2019-20 benefit year by $300 per child.
· The overall increase for families receiving CCB will be approximately $550 on average; these families will receive an extra $300 per child as part of their May payment. In total, this measure will deliver almost $2 billion in extra support.
· Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) – To ensure that certain groups who may be vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 have the support they need, the Government is proposing targeted help by reducing required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) by 25% for 2020, in recognition of volatile market conditions and their impact on many seniors’ retirement savings. This will provide flexibility to seniors that are concerned that they may be required to liquidate their RRIF assets to meet minimum withdrawal requirements. Similar rules would apply to individuals receiving variable benefit payments under a defined contribution Registered Pension Plan.
Member Pension Information
Members should feel reassured, as both OMERS and OTPP remain available to answer their questions and process pension applications. As members continue to be paid by boards, contributions to OTPP and OMERS continue to be made to those pension plans.
Both OTPP and OMERS have posted information for their members regarding COVID-19 developments. Information can be found by clicking on the following links: