The federal government revealed a $9-billion package of emergency measures for postsecondary students Wednesday, including expanded summer job grants, up to $5,000 for community volunteers and a new $1,250-a-month benefit for students who can’t find work.
In announcing the package, federal officials warned that the summer camp and festival jobs that students rely on to help pay for tuition and living expenses are unlikely to be there this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and physical-distancing restrictions.
Instead, Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said summer job and volunteer programs will be aimed at essential services in areas such as agriculture, food services and the health sector.
“We recognize that it’s going to be tough this summer,” she said.
The package of student-focused measures announced Wednesday include a new Canada Emergency Student Benefit of $1,250 a month for unemployed students and recent graduates. It will run from May to August.
A new Canada Student Service Grant will provide up to $5,000 toward education for students who volunteer in their communities. Federal funding for summer jobs will be increased and Canada Student Grants will be doubled for full-time students to up to $6,000. The maximum weekly amount for the Canada Student Loans Program will increase from $210 to $350.
The measures were announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his daily news conference and further details were announced later by Ms. Qualtrough and other ministers. The measures will require Parliament to approve new legislation, and ministers said many of the details are still being worked out.
The announcement was praised Wednesday by student groups including the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Quebec Student Union, who both said the package will bring significant relief to students affected by the pandemic. Student advocates had previously expressed concern that the main pandemic-related income support program – the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) - was not open to many students.
Carter McNelly, a 21-year-old student at Memorial University in St. John’s, said in an interview Wednesday that the measures would provide much needed support to students.
“It is really a welcome help for everything going on,” he said.
Mr. McNelly said many students were worried they were forgotten when the CERB was announced, and he contacted his local MP’s office about his concerns.
“I know a lot of students, including myself, really felt left in the dust, especially with hearing the Prime Minister earlier in the month say more to come on the student front,” he said.
David Robinson, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said Wednesday that the package addresses some of the concerns that students had.
“This helps, I think, to address some of those immediate needs,” he said. “It’s also some reassurance to some of our institutions who were worried about potential impacts on student enrolments.”
Any change to student enrolments will affect university revenues, Mr. Robinson said, adding that could affect hiring decisions and layoffs.
Many institutions rely on fees from international students, Mr. Robinson added, noting that if there is a continuation of the pandemic in September there could be a “catastrophic” decline in that revenue source.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who had urged the Liberal government to announce additional help for students, said Wednesday in a statement that his party is pleased to see the announcement for students. But he said “another complicated system is not what students need.”
Mr. Singh wants to see Ottawa make the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) universal, arguing this would ensure that anyone who needs help could access $2,000 right away.
Mr. Trudeau said the government’s focus from the beginning has been on getting help to millions of Canadians who need help.
“We felt and we feel that targeting the maximum amount of help to the people who needed it quickly was the right way to begin to get through this process,” he said.
Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said the Official Opposition welcomes support for students, but questioned why the announcement took so long. Ms. Dancho said her party will review the details of legislation closely.
“The Liberals have repeatedly announced measures where the fine print does not add up,” she said in a statement.
The original criteria for the CERB left out many summer students. It is restricted to people who are at least 15, have stopped working for reasons due to COVID-19, who had income of at least $5,000 in 2019 and who did not quit their job voluntarily.
Like the CERB, the new student benefit will be available to people with monthly income of $1,000 or less. The benefit will increase to $1,750 in situations where the student has a disability or is taking care of someone else.
Mr. Trudeau also said Wednesday that help is on the way for seniors. He said while they continue to have the same fixed income from the government, there are concerns about their long-term savings and a greater cost of living. The government has been working with opposition parties on the measures, he added.
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