The BC Government has announced a series of temporary supports and supplements to go towards people on income or disability assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.
Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson announced Thursday that everyone on income assistance or disability assistance who is not eligible for the emergency federal support programs, will be provided with an automatic $300-monthly COVID-19 crisis supplement for the next three months.
This supplement will also be provided to low-income seniors who receive the B.C. Senior’s Supplement and recipients of income assistance or disability assistance who reside in special care facilities.
These measures are being taken to ensure that people currently receiving income assistance or disability assistance don’t encounter additional barriers, according to the BC Government.
“We are putting in place measures that complement the federal crisis measures to support our most vulnerable populations and ensure they do not fall deeper into poverty as a result of COVID-19,” said Simpson. “This is a stressful time for everyone, but for those struggling to put food on the table at the best of times, it is important that we ensure there are no additional barriers to get what they need to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.”
According to the government, with the current provincewide suspension of BC Transit, all BC Bus Pass Program users receiving income assistance and disability assistance will be offered a $52 Transportation Supplement for the duration of the fare suspension. This will be added to the monthly cheque as long as the fare suspension remains in place.
In a press release issued on Thursday, the BC Government said these “interim measures further complement the government’s $5-billion COVID-19 Action Plan to provide income supports, tax relief and direct funding for people, businesses and services.”
“This will support over a quarter of a million people over the next three months,” said Simpson during a press conference on Thursday.
Simpson also announced a temporary exemption for all federal employment insurance benefits for people receiving provincial income or disability assistance, including the new $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
“What this means is for a number of British Columbians who are on income or disability assistance, they have an earning exemption,” said Simpson. “For those who will qualify and be able to apply for EI or to apply for the new Emergency Response Benefit, they will be able to apply for that benefit, receive that benefit and not have that deducted from their disability or assistance cheque.”
Earlier this week, the Province also announced a $3-million emergency grant to Food Banks BC to distribute among food banks provincewide. The government said the grant will support immediate needs to buy and distribute food, pay employees and cover other costs essential to the delivery of their food programs.
“We know that this is a difficult time, we know that we need to provide support for people and these supports today, it’s our hope, another step in the process of being able to ensure that those people on income assistance or disability assistance in our province will be supported moving forward,” Simpson said.
The government said these programs will be in place for the next three months.
“I was very happy because it’s about time they upped our things.” Saanich resident Deedee Chesnut said Thursday.
She shares her subsidized housing with another couple. She receives monthly disability assistance. But it’s tough to make ends meet. With the supplement, her monthly benefit will increase to $1,483, as a single person. A single parent will see their income increase to $1,909.
“It helps me to pay my bills and connect with family. And helps me to save extra money so when COVID-19 is done, I can do something and buy the groceries that I need.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic crisis deepens, economists believe governments acting quickly to supplement lost incomes is critical.
Dr. Rob Gillezeau, an assistant professor in the department of economics at the University of Victoria, said the job losses will continue.
“The unemployment rate, I think it’s extremely likely that we hit 20 percent. Which would be up to levels during the great depression. It’s certainly feasible that we surpass that amount,” Gillezeau said.
He’s pleased that today’s announcement captures the thousands in B.C. who do not qualify for the federal program.
“The safety net that is being built very rapidly, and I have an enormous amount of respect for the civil servants who have put this together, it’s going to capture a lot of people,” Gillezeau said.