Expanding CERB and Addressing Long-Term Care

Since launching the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the federal government has faced specific questions about certain groups of Canadians who might not technically qualify for these benefits but still require assistance.

As such, the federal government announced expanded eligibility today for the CERB, including:

 

  • Allowing people to earn up to $1,000 per month while collecting the CERB (in order that those working a few hours aren’t penalized for such work);
  • Extending the CERB to seasonal workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to undertake their usual seasonal work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak; and,
  • Extending the CERB to workers who recently exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to find a job or return to work because of COVID-19.

At this point, it is not clear how the expanded eligibility will impact the number of Canadians receiving CERB or the overall impact to the program’s cost. The number of CERB recipients is also expected to fluctuate as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy comes online and businesses use that mechanism to rehire and continue paying employees.

Prime Minister Trudeau also announced that the federal government, provinces, and territories will work together to temporarily top-up wages of essential workers who are earning less than $2,500 per month. The federal government is proposing a new transfer to cost-share the top-up. The measure is expected to be discussed at tomorrow’s conference call between the Prime Ministers and Premiers, with details on application and delivery to be released shortly after.

Additional measures are expected soon to address the needs of students and businesses concerned about commercial rents.

As the government focuses on expanding the social safety net, the economic impact of COVID-19 is now bearing out statistically. In a flash estimate of monthly GDP for March, Statistics Canada indicated a decline of 9 per cent, the highest drop in sixty years. For the first quarter of 2020, GDP declined by approximately 2.6 per cent.

The Bank of Canada has maintained the overnight rate at its low bound of 0.25 percent and announced new measures to provide additional support to the financial system. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz noted the outlook is conditional on how long containment measures remain in place and how different households and firms adapt. To support financial markets, the Bank is increasing its participation in government’s treasury bill auctions and buying up to $50 billion in provincial bonds, as well as noting the Bank is ready to scale up any of its programs should market conditions warrant it.

Addressing Long-Term Care

In the last couple of weeks, the very difficult impact of COVID-19 on long-term care centres has become almost daily news, with many outbreaks and deaths being reported in the media. Both the federal and provincial governments are being asked questions on their role in the sector and how to best build “iron rings” around these facilities to prevent further spread.

From a federal perspective, key levers include funding, equipment and technical guidance for the provinces and territories to implement in their jurisdictions where needed. Beyond that, the federal government can respond to special requests from the provinces and territories for added support, as is being done with human resources.

Provinces are seeking support on human resources and the federal government is working on this measure to share the costs of a temporary top up for essential workers. Additionally, Health Canada’s volunteer portal is being leveraged to match resources to support long-term care home, including about 1,000 bilingual volunteers available to support homes in Quebec.

The federal government can also deploy the Canadian Armed Forces to support pandemic response at the request of provincial governments. While the Government of Quebec has asked for a second deployment in the Cote-Nord region (in addition to Nunavik in the extreme north of Quebec), no requests have yet been made for the military to support long-term care homes.

COVID Impacts on Ontario’s Long-Term Care System

Facing its own sets of questions on the spread of COVID-19, Ontario announced today its action plan to prevent further outbreaks in long-term care homes, focusing its efforts on three key areas:

  • Aggressive testing, screening and surveillance;
  • Managing outbreaks and spread of the disease; and,
  • Growing the long-term care workforce.

This complements the emergency order restricting long-term care staff from working in more than one long-term care home, retirement home or health care setting. As a result, workers who must give up a job in another care setting are protected from losing their job, as they are entitled to an unpaid leave of absence. To help workers make up lost wages, the government is encouraging long-term care employers to offer full-time hours to their part-time employees during the pandemic and providing emergency funds to long-term care homes to cover the costs of increased part-time staff hours.

In the short term, the focus is on providing acute care for the sector: ensuring that both residents and workers are protected, while ensuring that human resources needs are met, with the federal government responding to special requests when raised by the provinces.

Longer term, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu identified that change is required to support aging in Canada. Thematically, this work follows previous commitments by the Liberals to improve home and community care, including the federal government’s $6 billion investment in Budget 2017, which allocated funding to the provinces and territories over 10 years. However, across governments, the pandemic may have exponentially accelerated fundamental change in Canada’s long-term care sector.