Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax-free money is set to expire this month after more than one-million eligible British Columbians failed to apply for the government’s B.C. Recovery Benefit.
New data from the Ministry of Finance shows only 72 per cent of the estimated 3.7-million people eligible actually completed applications to receive cheques of up to $1,000 under the program.
Approximately one-million eligible people still have not applied, representing as much as $1 billion in funding. The application deadline is June 30.
“I have heard stories of people being employed the entire time and haven’t taken a financial hit due to COVID and felt it didn’t feel appropriate for them to apply and so they chose not to,” Finance Minister Selina Robinson said in an interview.
“What I’m really pleased about is the number of people who applied who’ve been getting the full amount, because we wanted to make sure people had the opportunity to have some support through the hardest part of COVID.”
Opposition critic Mike Bernier said he thinks a “lack of trust and maybe a lack of communication” contributed to the B.C. Recovery Benefit’s problems.
“I don’t know if that’s a combination of people don’t trust government, or they weren’t thinking it was going to be worth their time because they had heard all the anxiety and frustration in accessing it,” said Bernier. “But it is concerning.”
Families with incomes up to $175,000 in 2019 are eligible for cheques of up to $1,000, and single people with incomes up to $87,500 are eligible for up to $500.
Premier John Horgan promised the cheques in October’s election as a form of direct financial relief to British Columbians during the pandemic.
However, the final program based eligibility on a person’s pre-pandemic income levels through their 2019 tax returns, meaning someone who lost their job due to the pandemic in 2020 might not have qualified for the money.
The benefit program was also plagued by long delays, and complaints by some people that their applications were held up by repeated requests from the province for detailed tax and financial information.
Robinson said she considers the overall program a success.
“The way I measure success is were we able to get help to those people who needed it most,” said Robinson.
“The fact we had 93 per cent of those applicants who were eligible for $500 they got the full $500, and over 80 per cent for families, and to me that says the money got to the right people and that’s the fact that is critically important.”