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A man delivers sandwiches at Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto on April 14, 2020.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

The federal government is expanding emergency aid payments to workers earning $1,000 or less a month and will work with the provinces to top up the wages of Canadians on the front lines of combatting COVID-19, such as those in working in long-term care facilities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at his daily news conference Wednesday that millions of Canadians have applied for the $2,000-a-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but he acknowledged the measure excluded too many people, such as part-time workers, artists or voluntary firemen.

“We are expanding the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to include people making up to $1,000 a month, seasonal workers and people whose EI [employment insurance] has run out,” Mr. Trudeau said. “If you were expecting a seasonable job that isn’t coming because of COVID-19, you will now be able to apply.”

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The Prime Minister said the government is also planning measures to help postsecondary students and businesses worried about commercial rent.

Mr. Trudeau said he intends to discuss with the premiers at their weekly meeting Thursday evening how they can jointly increase wages of essential workers making less than $2,500 a month, such as those at long-term care facilities.

“For many workers looking after the most vulnerable Canadians, including seniors and those with disabilities, we know conditions have got more difficult over the past week, and you need support right now,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau said artists will be able to collect CERB even if they are receiving royalties for copyrighted work done before the crisis.

Karl Littler, senior vice-president of public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, said the expansion of the CERB will help keep part-time employees working in grocery stores and pharmacies.

"The CERB, great though it was in a lot of settings, was sort of outbidding us for our own part-time workers,” he said in an interview. “So now that you can collect CERB but you also work a shift or two or three in a week, that is going to make a significant difference in shoring up the work force.”

Mr. Littler said he expects the plan to top up wages of essential workers will also apply to those in the retail sector.

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“Delivering food and drugs to people is a pretty important service,” he said.

​Quebec and British Columbia have already implemented direct wage support for low-income workers in the essential-service sectors. The federal government will be sharing the cost of this wage support through a new transfer to these provinces, according to a Department of Finance background document.

If others provinces sign on to temporary top-ups, the department said Ottawa “will cover a portion of the cost" for “those on the front-line in hospitals and nursing homes, those ensuring the integrity of the food supply, or providing essential retail services to Canadians.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Mr. Trudeau first raised the pay boost with the premiers last week and they were “enthusiastic.”

Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that the wage-hike proposal for long-term care workers will encourage them to stay in one facility so they don’t have to work in multiple institutions to earn a decent income.

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