COVID-19 emergency funds coming in 2-3 weeks, says Morneau

Canadians worried about having enough money to pay for food, rent and medication can expect emergency funds in two to three weeks, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Thursday.

In an interview with CBC News Network, Morneau said the government understands the urgency of the situation linked to the novel coronavirus and is leveraging the existing social service system to get money out the door.

The government has waived the one-week wait for employment insurance and announced a series of new measures Wednesday to help Canadians and businesses taking a financial hit from the pandemic.

“One of them, very clearly, is setting up this new approach for people that are not in the employment insurance system. And that, we expect, will be able to have money to people in the two-to-three week time period,” he said.

“If we could find a way to sit down at a desk and write cheques today, we would. This is the fastest way we can determine how to get money out to people.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the nation beginning at 11 a.m. ET and CBC News will have special live coverage. Those remarks, made from his residence at Rideau Cottage, will be followed by a news conference with ministers and health officials in Ottawa.

Morneau said the government is working hour-by-hour to look at ways to release funds more rapidly. He said Parliament could be recalled this weekend or early next week to pass legislation required to distribute the money.

Wednesday’s $82-billion emergency response package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion in tax deferrals.

The supports aim to help Canadians pay for rent and groceries, to help businesses continue to meet payroll and pay bills, and to stabilize the economy.

The emergency aid plan includes:

  • A temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payments, delivering about $2 billion in extra support.
  • A new Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 biweekly, up to 15 weeks, to 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. The measure could disburse up to $10 billion.
  • A new Emergency Support Benefit to provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
  • A six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments.
  • Doubling the homeless care program.
  • Extending the tax filing deadline to June 1.
  • Allowing taxpayers to defer until after Aug. 31 tax payments that are due after today and before September.
  • $305 million for a new Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities.

Other measures include a GST credit for low-income Canadians and special support for the homeless and shelters helping people escaping gender-based violence.

Morneau said the government is also working with the private sector to find ways to help Canadians. Banks, for example, could be flexible with mortgage and loan payments to help people who are financially struggling.

He said there is no way to know the duration or impact on the economy at this stage, but he is confident the crisis is temporary. Canada is well-positioned to deal with the challenge due to a talented workforce, strong health-care system and a government with the capacity to financially support Canadians and businesses.

“This is going to be all hands on deck for a long time until we get through this,” he said.


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