B.C. wants EI benefits extended to self-employed, part-time workers
Published Tuesday, March 17, 2020 1:33PM PDT Last Updated Wednesday, March 18, 2020 11:53AM PDT
VANCOUVER -- March 18 update: The federal government announced an enhanced EI program, and a new emergency worker fund. Here's how to apply.
The B.C. government is calling on Ottawa to extend employment insurance benefits to some of the workers who wouldn’t normally qualify but are nonetheless suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, Premier John Horgan said the economic impacts of self-isolation and social distancing are concerning for Canadians across the country, and argued the government can’t be “short changing people in this crisis.”
“It’s a go big or go home environment, it seems to me,” Horgan said. “We need an appropriate response from all orders of government and I’m confident that the prime minister and his team understand that.”
That means paying people 100 per cent of their normally earnings, rather than a maximum of $573 a week, and giving EI to those who don’t pay into the system.
It’s unclear whether the federal government intends to expand coverage, but Justin Trudeau promised a “major announcement” would be coming Wednesday.
“By the end of the week, we will have more to say about changes for the upcoming tax season,” he added while addressing the country from outside his official residence.
Ottawa has already waived the normal one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits for people who are sick or in quarantine, but it still only applies to those who have accumulated 600 “insured work hours” in the preceding year.
That amounts to 20 weeks of work at 30 hours a week, according to the government.
To qualify for regular EI, workers need between 420 and 700 hours of insurable employment, depending on the unemployment rate where they live.
B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said people who are self-employed, contractors or work part-time hours should be entitled to benefits during the COVID-19 crisis.
The provincial government has been “strongly advocating” for Ottawa to take that approach, James added.
“We’re certainly hoping that we’re going to hear that confirmation tomorrow,” she told reporters Tuesday.
James said B.C. is working to minimize the financial impacts of COVID-19 locally as well, in part by collaborating with the business community on an economic recovery plan.
“British Columbians can be assured that government has your back together we're going to get through this. And I think we all have to remember as well that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.
The government has not shared specific details about what that recovery plan might look like, however.
Additional measures to help people through the crisis could include a moratorium on evictions and a halt on late penalties for tax bills that would apply to both residents and business.
Horgan said changes are also coming to employment standards “to protect workers and prevent layoffs in the event that someone has to stay at home to self-isolate.”
“We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing,” he said.