Here’s some of the financial help available in B.C. during the COVID-19 crisis

Many British Columbians are facing a steep loss of income, bills they can’t pay and uncertainty about their eventual return to work to begin financial recovery as the COVID-19 crisis paralyzes the economy.

In response, both the provincial and federal governments have introduced billions in financial help for residents struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic — including tax breaks, bill deferrals, wage subsidies and breaks on loan payments.

The B.C. government has announced a $5-billion economic action plan to help families and businesses. Premier John Horgan said $2.8 billion is meant to immediately help people pay the bills and fund the services the public needs to get through the crisis, while the other $2.2 billion is allocated as relief for businesses and, eventually, their recovery after the pandemic.

The provincial aid works in concert with $82 billion in federal aid coming from Ottawa.

Here are some emergency resources and funding available to help. The list will be updated as more funds and programs become available.

This story includes measures to help with:

  • Income and disability assistance.
  • Rent.
  • Mortgages.
  • Monthly bills.
  • Employment Insurance (EI).
  • Taxes and tax credits.
  • Children and families.
  • Student loans.
  • Wages and businesses.
  • Travel and repatriation.
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A sanitation worker cleans a skytrain station in Vancouver on April 2, 2020. (Ben Nelms)

Canada Emergency Response Beneift (CERB)

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit is available to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed people in Canada who don’t qualify for employment insurance (EI). It is also available to those who are still working, but are now earning less than $1,000 per month.

The application process for the CERB opened in early April, with individual income support payments amounting to about $2,000 a month. The benefits will be available for four months, for a maximum total of $8,000.

B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers (BCEBW)

Applications for the BCEBW open May 1. The benefit is a one-time, tax free payment of $1,000 to those “whose work has been affected by COVID-19.”

A statement from the province said “most people” who are eligible for the CERB will be eligible for the B.C. grant as well. Applicants must also have filed, or have agreed to file, a 2019 B.C. tax return and cannot be receiving provincial income assistance or disability assistance.

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A restaurant worker waits for customers in downtown Vancouver on March 18, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Aid for post-secondary students

The federal government’s Canada Emergency Student Benefit will pay $1,250 monthly to Canadian and permanent resident post-secondary students and graduates to make up for lost work and cut hours. This benefit is to be available from May to August 2020

The amount can increase to $1,750 for students with disabilities or who care for others.

Students who volunteer on COVID-19 response efforts will be rewarded through bursaries of up to $5,000 toward their education in the fall.

To help students continue their studies when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, the federal government is doubling the Canada Student Grants for all eligible full-time students to up to $6,000 and up to $3,600 for part-time students in 2020-21.

$300 more to income and disability assistance

An additional monthly benefit of $300 will be added to cheques issued to low-income seniors and those on disability and income assistance for the next three months as part of the provincial government’s $5-billion COVID-19 financial aid plan.

Roughly 250,000 British Columbians will start receiving the new money when the next round of cheques are sent out Aprill 22. The program will run through to June. 

In a separate measure, the province will be providing a temporary exemption to clawbacks on federal employment insurance benefits for the next three months, including the new $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

It means people receiving income assistance and disability assistance in B.C. will be able to apply for the emergency federal support program, without having that money taken off their assistance cheques.

Rent

Renters who have experienced loss of income can now apply for a new temporary rental supplement for the months of April, May, and June. 

Households with no dependents are eligible for a rent rebate of $300 per month while households with dependents can claim $500 per month. For units with roommates, each tenant will be able to apply for the supplement.

The rental supplement is available on a per-household basis to those who meet all of the following criteria:

  • Receiving or eligible for Employment Insurance, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or experiencing a 25 per cent reduction in monthly employment income as a result of COVID-19.
  • A 2019 household income of less than $74,150 for households with no dependents and $113,040 for households with dependents.
  • Paying more than 30 per cent of their current gross monthly income toward rent.
  • Not receiving any other rent subsidy from any level of government, including subsidized housing or rent supplements, such as Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) or the Rental Assistance Program (RAP).

Renters who have already paid their April rent are still able to receive the rental supplement for this month. The supplement will be deposited directly to landlords on behalf of renters within seven days of applications being completed and processed. 

For renters in some parts of the province, it is also possible to get emergency help for rent payments and one-time interest-free loans through rent bank programs.

Numerous advocacy groups have called for federal and provincial governments to immediately pause all rent payments, in addition to mortgage payments.

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A woman walks past graffiti in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Ben Nelms)

Mortgages

Canada’s six largest banks — RBC, TD, BMO, Scotiabank, CIBC and National Bank — have agreed to allow mortgage payment deferrals for up to six months for those affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19, effective immediately. They will also provide relief for other credit products. Vancity, a credit union in Vancouver, is also deferring payments of mortgages and other loans for six months on a case-by-case basis. 

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is also increasing flexibility for lenders to defer mortgage payments on homeowner government-insured mortgage loans. 

Monthly bills

BC Hydro

BC Hydro has introduced a COVID-19 customer assistance program to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans with no penalty. The Crown corporation has also implemented a universal one per cent reduction in rates for all customers. 

As well, residential customers who have lost jobs or had wages reduced as a result of COVID-19 will receive a credit worth three times their average monthly bill which will not have to be paid back. Customers have until June 30 to apply.

Small businesses forced to close as a result of COVID-19 will have their April to June 2020 bills forgiven and can apply beginning April 14.

BC Hydro will give the option of a three-month deferment to large businesses.

Major industry partners, including pulp mills and mines, will be able to defer 50 per cent of their bill for three months.

Those facing temporary financial hardship and possible disconnection of their service due to job loss, illness, or loss of a family member may also be eligible for BC Hydro’s Customer Crisis Fund, which provides access to grants of up to $600 to pay their bills.

Call BC Hydro’s customer team at 1-800-224-9376 to discuss bill payment options.

ICBC

ICBC currently allows one monthly deferral request per policy term. You can change the date of an upcoming monthly payment online.

FortisBC

The energy provider has implemented a new COVID-19 Customer Recovery Fund, which will allow residential customers to defer their bill payments from April 1 to June 30. Repayment schedules can be set up to allow bills to be paid over a full year after June 30.

Small businesses that remain open during the crisis will also be eligible for bill deferral. Businesses that have been forced to close can receive bill credits for any charges to their account during the time they’re not able to operate.

City of Port Coquitlam utility bills

The City of Port Coquitlam is waiving the March 31 penalty and extending the deadline for payment of 2020 utility bills which includes water, sewer and solid waste. The next due date is May 31, but the city will consider extending it further closer to the time.  

Monthly memberships and subscriptions

Many gyms and other monthly services are offering membership freezes or refunds if the facility is closed. Call the individual business to confirm and set up. 

Employment Insurance (EI)

Finance Minister Carole James has announced a $1,000 Emergency Benefit for Workers, which will be a one-time payment available to people who have been laid off, those who are sick or quarantined and those who’ve had to stay home to care for their children or sick family members.

The federal government waived the one-week waiting period for employment insurance for workers in imposed quarantine or who have been directed to self-isolate. The previous requirement of a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits is also waived.

A new emergency care benefit of up to $900 every two weeks, for up to 15 weeks, will provide income support to workers, including the self-employed, who have to stay home and don’t qualify for paid sick leave or employment insurance. 

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Two seniors walk through Kitsilano Beach Park in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson)

Taxes and tax credits

The tax filing deadline is extended to June 1.

Taxpayers can defer tax payments until after Aug. 31, if they’re due after March 18 and before September. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this period.

Low-income individuals and families will have a special top-up payment under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) credit. 

The B.C. government has also announced an increase in the B.C. Climate Action Tax Credit for July 2020.

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The Keefer Bar manager Amber Bruce closes her bar in Vancouver on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

For businesses in B.C. with a payroll over $500,000, employer health tax payments can be deferred until the end of September. (Businesses with smaller payrolls are already exempt from paying the tax.)

The province is extending tax filing and payment deadlines for a number of businesses’ taxes until Sept. 30, including:

  • PST.
  • Municipal and regional district tax.
  • Tobacco tax.
  • Motor fuel tax.
  • Carbon tax.

Commercial property tax

The province is cutting most commercial property tax bills.

That is being done by reducing the school property tax rate for commercial properties to achieve an average 25 per cent reduction in the total property tax bill most businesses will pay.

This is on top of a previously announced 50 per cent reduction to the provincial school property tax rate.

The government has also postponed the date that late payment penalties apply for most commercial properties to Oct. 1, 2020, to give businesses and landlords more time to pay their reduced property tax, without penalty.

Children and parents

The federal government is temporarily boosting Canada Child Benefit payments.

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A woman pushes a stroller through an empty Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver on March 23, 2020. (Ben Nelms)

Children and youth with special needs

The B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development is establishing an emergency relief support fund for children with special needs and their families. The fund will provide $225 per month to eligible families until the end of June.

The money can be used for counselling services, caregiver relief support, homemaking services, grocery shopping and meal preparation assistance and other services that support the family.

Parents with children in care on a special needs agreement will not have to make monthly payments. Supported child development programs and Aboriginal supported child development programs will be staffed during school hours to help with the lack of school-based services. 

Eligibility and access to At Home Program medical benefits will be relaxed and families receiving benefits will not be reassessed during the health crisis.

Parents of children with autism can now spend 35 per cent of their funding, up from 20 per cent,on items to help kids learn at home and families may direct their child’s autism funding toward accessing family counselling and therapy services.

Student loans 

A six-month, interest-free reprieve on Canada Student Loan payments will be available. The B.C. government also announced a six-month freeze on student loan payments, starting in March.

B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal 

The British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) remains open and to help people resolve disputes during the COVID-19 pandemic is extending statutory deadlines and waiving fees for those struggling financially.

The CRT has authority to resolve disputes involving strata property, societies and co-operative associations; small claims under $5,000, and motor vehicle personal injury cases under $50,000.

Anyone who needs the CRT to consider waiving, suspending or extending a mandatory time period is encouraged to contact the tribunal immediately, by email or phone, with their dispute number and the reason for the request. 

Wage subsidies, breaks for businesses

Eligible small businesses can get a 10 per cent wage subsidy from the province of B.C. for the next 90 days, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer, to help keep people on the payroll. This also includes not-for-profit organisations and charities. 

The federal government is also offering a subsidy on wages for large businesses, small businesses, non-profits and charities which can demonstrate that their revenues have dropped by at least 30 per cent in wake of the outbreak. Those businesses will all be eligible for a 75 per cent subsidy, no matter how many workers they employ.

For workers, the subsidy will be 75 per cent of their salary on the first $58,700 they earn — or up to $847 per week — backdated to March 15.

All businesses can defer the payment of any income tax amounts that are owed between March 18 and August 31. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this period. 

The new Business Credit Availability Program increases the credit that’s available to small, medium, and large Canadian businesses. 

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A woman walks down an empty sidewalk on Robson street in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 11. (Ben Nelms)

The credit available to farmers and the agri-food sector is being augmented through Farm Credit Canada.

The six largest financial institutions in Canada have also promised to work with small business banking customers on a case-by-case basis to provide flexible solutions, mortgage deferrals for six months and relief on other credit products.

The federal government will establish a $10-billion credit facility to lend money to businesses under stress as a result of the pandemic.

City of White Rock business relief

The City of White Rock has extended its 10 per cent discount on business licence renewals for those affected by COVID-19 public health orders.

It will also return sidewalk licence fees that were paid for the months when patio dining areas were unusable.

Local government help

The B.C. government has put in measures to help municipalities that are strapped for cash and experiencing revenue shortfalls.

Local governments will now be allowed to borrow interest-free from their existing capital reserves to help pay for operating expenses and will provide greater flexibility so those governments can carry debt for an additional year.

The province is also delaying school tax remittances until the end of the year, saying this will provide significant relief to local governments facing cash flow issues.

Travel and repatriation 

The federal government is establishing an emergency loan program of $5,000 from Global Affairs Canada to help Canadians who need immediate financial assistance come back home or help meet their needs while they are away if they cannot come home straight away. Canadians abroad who need help on an urgent basis can call or email sos@international.gc.ca.

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A passenger is pictured at an empty international departures gate at Vancouver International Airport. (Ben Nelms)

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