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'Canadians should not make health decisions based on their financial needs,' Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, seen here outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on March 18, 2020.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Workers – including the self-employed – who don’t ordinarily qualify for employment insurance benefits would have access to income supports under sweeping new federal government measures announced on Wednesday.

The new measures would include an emergency care benefit for workers who must stay home because of the new coronavirus and don’t get paid sick leave. The new benefit would provide as much as $900 every two weeks for up to 15 weeks to those who don’t qualify for EI but are sick with COVID-19, quarantined or forced to stay at home to care for children or other family members who are sick. Applications for this benefit would start next month.

“Canadians should not make health decisions based on their financial needs,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time when you should be focused on your health and that of your neighbours, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication."

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The government is also introducing an emergency support benefit of up to $5-billion in total for those who lose their jobs or who face reduced hours because of the impact of the coronavirus, and aren’t eligible for EI.

Ottawa plans to use existing infrastructure to introduce other measures aimed at helping workers and families through the economic hardship during the pandemic. For more than 3.5 million families with children who may need extra support, the government would temporarily boost Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payments this year by $300 a child, starting in May.

And for more than 12 million lower-income families, the government would send a one-time special payment by early May through the goods and services tax credit. The average boost to income from this measure is expected to be nearly $400 for single people and almost $600 for couples.

Together, the proposed enhancements to the CCB and the GST top-up would give a single parent with two children and low to modest income nearly $1,500 in additional short-term support, the government said.

Canadians have three ways to apply for the emergency care benefit: through the Canada Revenue Agency MyAccount secure portal, through a My Service Canada account, or by calling a toll-free number for an automated application process.

Labour groups and many economists welcomed the measures, although some said they should go further. The government said more steps will be taken to support families and businesses as the situation evolves.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s good, multipronged, repeatable and scalable,” said Jennifer Robson, associate professor of political management at Carleton University, adding that the new emergency benefits “seem very inclusive.”

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Her chief concern is accessibility. “My main worry is on details and implementation of the new benefits,” Dr. Robson said. “I worry about eligible non-participation and people suffering real hardship but for applying for a benefit they were entitled to. I worry about people who can’t apply online and what measures will be used to do facilitated access.”

There is concern that some, such as those with a precarious immigration status, could fall through the cracks. ”No worker should be left behind, especially at this time,” said Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. “We depend on the labour of precarious migrants to keep our lives and the economy running in good times and bad. We must now fulfill our obligations to them as we would for any worker in Canada.”

The government is recalling Parliament to pass some of the new measures.

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