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People in British Columbia can start applying online for the government’s pandemic recovery benefit for eligible families and individuals starting Dec. 18.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson introduced legislation Tuesday to provide the tax-free benefit of $1,000 for families and $500 for individuals to about 3.7 million people.

She said the cost of the program, including increases to income and disability assistance payments of $150 a month starting in January, 2021, amounts to about $1.7-billion.

Ms. Robinson said she expects some people will receive the one-time recovery benefit before Christmas, while others will get the money deposited into their accounts before the end of December.

“This will give people some breathing room and peace of mind, a bit more to spend on groceries, on coats, on boots for their growing kids,” she told a news conference.

B.C. Liberal finance critic Mike Bernier said the benefit will be useful to many, but more is needed from the provincial recovery plan for COVID-19.

“Short term relief is a piece of the puzzle, but we need government to provide real answers on what they are going to do next. The people of B.C. will still need support long after they have spent the $500 benefit,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Bernier said the government is also proposing in legislation to delay the release of the provincial budget until April 30, which would mean waiting until May for an economic plan.

The provincial budget is normally released in February.

Ms. Robinson said she will provide an update on the province’s finances in the coming days and works is under way on the budget.

In September, the budget deficit was projected at almost $13-billion for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

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