B.C. Premier John Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James announced a $5 billion aid package Monday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
Horgan says it is a stressful time for people and businesses, and help is needed now.
The package, being called an economic COVID-19 action plan, includes $2.8 billion for people and $2.2 billion for businesses.
Of that money, $1.1 billion will be going toward workers and family. A new B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers will provide a tax-free $1,000 payment to British Columbians whose ability to work has been affected by the pandemic.]
The government said this will be a one-time payment for British Columbians who receive federal Employment Insurance (EI), or the new federal Emergency Care Benefit or Emergency Support Benefit as a result of COVID-19 impacts.
This includes workers who have been laid-off, who are sick or quarantined, parents with sick children, parents who stay at home from work while child care centres and schools are closed, and those caring for sick family members, such as an elderly parent. The workers can be EI-eligible and non-EI eligible, such as the self-employed. The benefit will be paid to B.C. residents, in addition to their federal income supports.
A total of $1.7 billion is going toward essential services, including funding for the healthcare system and supports for tenants struggling to pay rent.
The province is looking at topping up the climate action tax credit, which would come after taxes are paid. The credit would go toward more than 80 per cent of British Columbians. According to the provincial government, eligible families of four will receive up to $564 and eligible individuals will receive up to $218 in an enhanced payment. This boosts the regular climate action tax credit payment of up to $112.50 per family of four and up to $43.50 per adult.
All student loan payments are paused until Sept. 30 and BC Hydro clients can also defer bill payments with no penalty. ICBC is extending deferrals to up to 90 days. People affected by COVID-19 may also qualify for BC Hydro’s Customer Crisis Fund grant program for up to $600.
Horgan also said there will be no evictions due to COVID-19. However, he said evictions that are underway due to other reasons will continue.
According to Horgan, more information for renters will come from Housing Minister Selina Robinson later this week.
As for businesses, the ones with a payroll over $500,000 can defer their employer health tax payments until Sept. 30, 2020. Businesses with a payroll under this threshold are already exempt from the tax.
In addition to the employer health tax, the province is extending tax filing and payment deadlines for the provincial sales tax (PST), municipal and regional district tax, tobacco tax, motor fuel tax and carbon tax until Sept. 30, 2020. The scheduled April 1 increase to the provincial carbon tax, as well as the new PST registration requirements on e-commerce and the implementation of PST on sweetened carbonated drinks, will be delayed. Their timing will be reviewed by Sept. 30, 2020.
Business and light- and major-industry property classes will have school tax cut in half.
The government said this will provide $500 million in immediate relief for business that own their property and allow commercial landlords to pass savings on to their tenants in triple-net leases.
James and Horgan both said during Monday’s news conference that they are looking at recovery funding for the hardest-hit areas of the province, including tourism, hospitality and culture sectors. James said the B.C. government is working with business and labour leaders to build an economic stimulus plan. The province has allocated $1.5 billion for economic recovery.
Two pieces of legislation are expected to be passed in the B.C. legislature today: one is an amendment to the Employment Standards Act to ensure no one loses a job while in isolation or taking care of a sick family member and the other to fund the action plan.
Just 12 members of the British Columbia legislature will be present this afternoon as the sitting resumes in Victoria.
NDP, Green and Liberal representatives approved plans for the scaled-down sitting to meet social distancing requirements, although the proceedings will be broadcast online and via legislative TV.
B.C. declared a state of emergency last week to support its response to COVID-19.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said earlier Monday 472 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C. since the first case was identified here at the end of January.
Henry also confirmed three deaths have occurred since Saturday, bringing the total number of B.C. fatalities to 13.
Henry says 48 new cases have been reported since the weekend update, with 33 of the 472 cases currently in hospital, and 14 of those in intensive care.
But she says 100 people have been listed as recovered and have been released from isolation, a number she says is “a really good thing” to finally put on the books.
Read more about the action plan here.
With files from The Canadian Press