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COVID-19

Financial Assistance

Are you wondering what financial assistance is available to you? Check out this fact sheet from the Income Security Advocacy Centre for all the information that you need to know about financial assistance from the Provincial and Federal governments:

Accessing Income Support in the wake of COVID-19 (Updated March 26)

This document lists several income support programs that may be available to Ontario residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. This information is changing rapidly and we recommend that you check with the relevant government’s website for updated information.

Introduction

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus. It has caused illnesses and deaths across the world, including in Canada, prompting extraordinary social distancing measures in an effort to contain the virus. The resulting economic disruption and uncertainty has undermined the income security of many in the province of Ontario.

This document lists federal and provincial income security programs that could assist Ontarians in these rapidly changing times. Some of these programs existed before the spread of COVID-19, while others have been modified or introduced as a response to the economic downturn. Nevertheless, many low-income individuals, including individuals with pre-existing disabilities and migrant workers, may still fall through the cracks because of deficiencies in current program design.

This document lays out a description of each income security program and makes, several suggestions for improving each. The pandemic highlights an urgent need for paid sick days, a more inclusive employment insurance program, and a more robust social assistance system. We must ensure that nobody in Ontario is left behind.

Employment Insurance (EI)

• What is it?

The Employment Insurance program provides temporary income support to individuals who lose their wages. This may occur if they lose their job, are temporarily laid off, or if they need to take time off work because they are sick or need to care for a family member who is critically ill. Two specific benefits provided under Employment Insurance are described below:

– Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits:

Workers who are sick or quarantined due to COVID-19 can apply for Employment Insurance sickness benefits. In order to qualify, the worker must have worked 600 hours within the 52 weeks before they apply.

Workers who qualify will receive the benefits for up to 15 weeks. Earlier this year, the federal government announced plans to increase the benefits period to 26 weeks, but this change has not yet been implemented.

– What has changed with Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits?

In response to the pandemic, three important changes to Employment Insurance sickness benefits were announced to simplify access:

1. Workers will not need a doctor’s note to apply for EI sickness benefits.
2. Normally, there is a waiting period of 1 week before a worker can start to receive EI sickness benefits. This waiting period has been removed. This means workers can now get EI sickness benefits for the week immediately after they stop working as well.
3. Workers who are under quarantine and are unable to make a prompt claim for EI sickness benefits can have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.

A special hotline is available for applicants for EI sickness benefits related to COVID-19:

Telephone: 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free)

Teletypewriter (TTY): 1-800-529-3742

– Employment Insurance Regular Benefits:

Workers who have lost their job or been temporarily laid off as a result of COVID-19 can apply for Employment Insurance Regular Benefits. In order to qualify, the worker must have worked a specific number of hours within the 52 weeks before they apply. The number of hours required will depend on where the worker lives and is usually between 420 to 700 hours. Workers can find out how many hours they need at this link.

Workers who qualify will receive the benefits from between 14 to a maximum of 45 weeks. Once a worker applies for EI Regular Benefits, there is a 1-week waiting period before they can begin to receive the benefits. The federal government has not removed this waiting period.

– What has changed with Employment Insurance Regular Benefits?

As of the date of this posting, Employment and Social Development Canada has not announced any changes being made to Employment Insurance regular benefits.

NEW: Canada Emergency Response Benefit (Updated on March 26.20)

• What is it?

On March 25, 2020 the federal government introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) to help workers impacted by COVID-19.
The federal government had previously announced two new benefit programs for people who do not qualify for EI (the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit). However, the new CERB merges and replaces those two programs.

• What details have been announced?

This Benefit will provide workers (including self-employed and contract workers) with a taxable benefit of $2,000 per month, for up to 4 months, if they have lost income because of COVID-19. The following are some examples of situations where CERB will be available:

– Workers who must stop working due to COVID-19 and who do not have access to paid leave or other income support;

– Workers who are sick, quarantined, or caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19;

– Working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick, or who need care because of school and daycare closures;

– Workers who still have their jobs but who are not being paid because there is not enough work and their employer has asked them not to come to work;

– Wage earners and self-employed individuals, including contract workers, who would not otherwise qualify for Employment Insurance.

To qualify for the CERB, a worker must be at least 15 years old, and have earned $5,000 or more in the last 12 months. This includes income earned from employment and from Employment Insurance pregnancy or parental benefits. In addition, the worker must cease working for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days to qualify for CERB. During the 14 consecutive days, the worker must have no employment income, nor income from EI or a similar source.

Workers will be able to receive the CERB whether or not they qualify for Employment Insurance. However, workers who are already receiving Employment Insurance regular or sickness benefits would continue to receive their benefits and should not apply for the CERB. If their EI benefits end before October 3, 2020 and they are still unable to return to work due to COVID-19, then they could apply for the CERB. Workers who receive the CERB for the maximum 16-week period and who are still unemployed afterward, can access EI regular and sickness benefits if they qualify for them.

The federal government expects that applications will become available in the week of April 6, 2020 through the Canada Revenue Agency and Service Canada. Eligible applicants are expected to receive the benefit approximately 10 days after applying. Each worker may receive the benefit for up to a 16-week period any time between March 15, 2020 to October 3, 2020.

Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

• What is it?

Ontario’s social assistance system is made up of two programs: the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which provides income support specifically to persons with disabilities, and Ontario Works (OW), which supports others who need financial assistance. Currently, a single person receives only $733 per month from OW or $1,169 from ODSP. A full, up-to-date rates sheet can be found here.

To be eligible for both OW and ODSP, Ontario residents must be from households in financial need. Many residents stand to lose all or part of their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and may become financially eligible for social assistance. Note, however, that any income received from sources other than employment is generally deducted dollar-for-dollar from OW and ODSP benefits (notable exceptions are the Canada Child Benefit and the Ontario Child Benefit, discussed below). As a result, residents who qualify for other, more generous income support programs such as Employment Insurance may not qualify for either social assistance program.

In addition to proving financial need, ODSP applicants must also show that they have a substantial physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least one year leading to a substantial restriction in activities of daily living. Long-term effects of COVID-19 are currently unknown, but many otherwise healthy individuals exhibit mild symptoms for a shorter period of time and are therefore unlikely to qualify for ODSP. Others who are more seriously affected by COVID-19 might qualify for ODSP on a case-by-case basis if they meet the above criteria.

• What has changed?

The Ontario government has announced changes to the administration of social assistance in response to COVID-19. Most importantly, payments to recipients will no longer be suspended because of a recipient’s failure to report income. The Eligibility Verification Process reviews are also put on hold. Recipients may also be able to access additional discretionary benefits by contacting their caseworkers.

Emergency Assistance

• What is it?

In Ontario, low-income families and individuals who are not already receiving OW or ODSP may qualify for Emergency Assistance if they face an emergency situation where they cannot meet basic needs or shelter expenses. The amount of assistance is up to the discretion of an administrator, and it may include an amount for basic needs, shelter, and benefits. Typically, an applicant only receives Emergency Assistance for a period of up to 16 days and cannot apply more than once in a six-month period (with some exceptions).

• What has changed?

Ontario has announced that access to Emergency Assistance will be expanded for those who do not qualify for emergency financial support under federal programs. In particular, Ontario will make Emergency Assistance available for up to 48 days at a time (up from 16) and allow families and individuals affected by COVID-19 to apply for Emergency Assistance more often than once every six months. An application for Emergency Assistance can now be made here.

Canada Child Benefit and Ontario Child Benefit

• What is it?

The Canada child benefit (CCB) is a tax-free federal benefit paid monthly to help with the cost of raising children under 18 years of age. Eligible families receive up to a monthly maximum of $553.25 for each child under 6 years of age or $466.83 for older children. Eligibility for CCB requires filing income taxes and meeting certain immigration status requirements.
The Ontario Child Benefit (OCB) is an additional payment provided by the Province of Ontario to low and moderate income families who receive the CCB, up to a maximum of $120 per child. For those families who receive social assistance but are ineligible for the CCB or OCB, Ontario provides the Transition Child Benefit (TCB), which is $230 per child each month.

• What has changed?

The federal government has announced that the May 2020 payment will be increased by up to $300 per child, for one time only. Each family receiving CCB will get an average of $550 more than other months, depending on their number of children and income level.

The Ontario government has also promised, as a response to the pandemic, to provide an additional one-time payment of $200 per child up to 12 years of age, and $250 for those with special needs.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits

• What is it?

Workers’ compensation benefits are benefits paid to workers who are absent from work because of a work-related injury or illness. The benefits are paid by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and there are three types of benefits a worker may be able to access: (1) loss of earnings benefits for wages lost as a result of the illness or injury; (2) health care benefits for health care expenses; and (3) non-economic loss benefits for serious and permanent injuries. However, only workers in Ontario workplaces that are covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act can access these benefits.

If a worker contracts COVID-19 at work and is required to take time off work as a result, then they might qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has stated on their website that any such claims will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Board has also provided this guideline to determining claims in relation to COVID-19.

• What has changed?

At this time, we are not aware of any changes to the WSIB program in response to COVID-19.

For more recommendations on improving the workers’ compensation program in response to COVID-19, please visit this link.

Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement, and GAINS

• What is it?

Old Age Security (OAS) is a pension of up to $613.53 paid monthly by the federal government to seniors over 65 who meet immigration status and residency requirements. Only seniors with modest or low income obtain this benefit fully as the amount of OAS benefits decrease with income.
The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) is a top-up monthly benefit for low-income OAS recipients. A single, widowed, or divorced pensioner may receive up to $916.38 each month from the federal government.

The Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) is a further top-up monthly benefit paid by the province to low-income seniors who reside in Ontario and receive both OAS and GIS. Monthly GAINS payments range between $2.50 and $83.

• What has changed?

Ontario has temporarily doubled the maximum GAINS benefit for six months, starting in April 2020. At this time, we are not aware of any changes to the OAS or GIS in response to COVID-19.

Goods and Services Tax Credit

• What is it?

The federal government pays the Goods and Services Tax Credit (GSTC) to low and modest income households in order to offset the sales tax. Each year, single individuals can receive up to $443 and couples up to $580, with up to an additional $153 for each child under the age of 19. The actual amount each household receives depends on their income level as reported in their tax return. The total annual GSTC for each household is broken into four quarterly payments, paid in July, October, January, and April.

• What has changed?

Canada has announced that it will double the maximum GSTC amounts for this year only. Eligible households can expect to receive the extra GSTC in a special payment made by early May 2020. The maximum amount of the payment will correspond to the figures noted above.

Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance

• What is it?

Some workplaces in Ontario have private disability insurance plans that provide wage replacement to workers who unexpectedly become ill or injured, and are unable to work and earn an income. These insurance plans may allow for either short-term and/or long-term coverage of the worker’s wages. The amount of wage replacement varies depending on the specific insurance plan. It often ranges from 60% to 85% of the worker’s regular income up to a maximum amount, for a specific period of time.

If a worker becomes ill as a result of COVID-19 and is unable to work, then they may qualify for short-term or long-term disability coverage. The requirements to access either type of insurance will depend on the insurance provider’s policy. Workers should contact their employer or the insurance provider for more information about qualifying for coverage, and how to apply.

As well, many workplaces, through employment contracts, collective agreements and personnel policies, provide for a limited number of paid sick days. This is effectively a type of employer-funded short-term disability coverage. These contracts or personnel policies usually provide for a fixed number of paid days granted per calendar year or paid “sick credits” may be accrued on a monthly basis. These paid sick days vary by workplace. For example, in the Ontario Public Service, 6 days are credited every January and in many nonprofits and the private sector, it is earned at 1.25 days per month. In some workplaces, it can be accumulated and carried over from year to year. If a worker becomes ill or is required to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19 and is unable to work, then they may be able to draw on their paid sick credits as short-term disability coverage. These employer-funded sick days may be superior to federal or provincial standards concerning sick leaves, paid or unpaid.

• What has changed?

Workers should contact their employer about existing personnel policies or their insurance provider for information about any changes to their insurance policy in response to COVID-19.