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

Many British Columbians are facing financial uncertainty amid the wave of layoffs, reduced hours and business strife resulting from the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

In response, the B.C. government has announced a $5-billion economic action plan to help families and businesses struggling financially through the crisis, including one-time payments of $1,000 to people who are now out of work.

Premier John Horgan said the new plan has set aside $2.8 billion to immediately help people pay the bills and fund the services the public needs to get through the crisis, such as health care.

The other $2.2 billion is allocated as relief for businesses and, eventually, their recovery after the pandemic.

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

Rent

A monthly rent rebate of up to $500 will be paid directly to landlords through B.C. Housing.

The money will not arrive in time for April 1 and the premier asked that tenants and landlords co-operate in the meantime.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the province is still working out whether the rebate will be granted per tenant or per unit.

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

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

A woman walks past graffiti in downtown in Vancouver on March 17, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mortgages

Canada’s six largest banks — RBC, TD, BMO, Scotiabank, CIBC and National Bank — will 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 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. Call BC Hydro’s customer team at 1-800-224-9376 to discuss bill payment options.

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.

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.  

ICBC

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

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. 

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

Employment Insurance 

Finance Minister Carole James has announced a $1,000 Emergency Benefit for Workers will be 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. More details here.

The federal government has 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 now waived. Apply for EI sickness benefits through the government website.

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. 

Workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment can also apply for an emergency support benefit, delivered through the Canada Revenue Agency. 

Applications for these two new benefits will open in April. 

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.

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

Children and parents

The federal government is temporarily boosting Canada Child Benefit payments. 

EI-eligible and non EI-eligible working parents who must stay home without pay because of children who are sick or who need additional care because of school closures can also apply for the Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks.  

Student loans 

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

Businesses 

In B.C., effective immediately, businesses with a payroll over $500,000 can defer their employer health tax payments 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 taxes until Sept. 30, including:

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

Eligible small businesses can get a 10 per cent wage subsidy 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. 

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. 

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

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 government will establish a $10 billion credit facility to lend money to businesses under stress as a result of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, Finance Minister Bill Morneau has announced.

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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