VANCOUVER -- B.C. is prepared to spend $5 billion on initiatives to offset the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The premier announced a plan Monday that included $2.8 billion for people and services, and $2.2 billion on what he called "businesses and recovery."

“There has to be hope as we get through these difficult, challenging times,” John Horgan said at a press conference in Victoria.

Finance Minister Carole James announced $1.7 billion of the funding will go towards critical services, which includes funding for health care and housing, tenants, those on income assistance, and support for businesses and families hit hard by the pandemic.

The First Nations Health Authority, non-profits and other agencies, as well as licensed child care providers that remain open, would also be eligible to receive some of this funding.

"I want to emphasize that this plan is a starting point," said James. "It's going to have to evolve as the situation evolves. And we are going to do everything we need to to keep British Columbians safe, healthy and supported and to keep our economy strong."

James also announced $1.1 billion will fund relief for workers and their families, which will add to benefits that have been made available by the federal government. James said this is a first step and other measures are on the way.

“The pandemic will present extraordinary hurdles for all of us, but we are in this together. Your government has your back,” said James.

There will also be a top-up to the province's climate action credit, which James said would go to more than 80 per cent of individuals and families in the province. James said families of four could receive up to $564 and individuals could receive up to $218. To be eligible, families would need to first file their 2019 tax returns.

The province also announced the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers, which will give a $1,000 payment to British Columbians whose ability to work has been impacted by the pandemic.

The one-time, tax-free payment will be available for residents who receive Employment Insurance or those who are receiving the federal Emergency Care Benefit or Emergency Support Benefit. Those who qualify could include non-EI eligible workers who have been laid off, people who are self-employed, those caring for sick relatives or parents who are staying at home to take care of their children.  

Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said the province’s initial offering was generous. Yet, she questioned why B.C. didn’t follow Quebec’s lead and offer funding before the federal government benefits kick in, in April.

“It was announced last Monday, the application was available Thursday, people are going to get their money quickly -- what's the hold up?” she said in an interview with CTV News via Skype Monday.

Some of the other highlights of the province's COVID-19 action plan include:

  • All student loan payments will be paused until Sept. 30, 2020
  • $50 million to the United Way to support seniors
  • All evictions over not paying rent halted for BC Housing-funded buildings

"It seems inconceivable that just over a month ago, we tabled a balanced budget," said Premier John Horgan.

Read more about the government's COVID-19 financial plan here

There are also relief measures for businesses, including deferring tax filing and payment deadlines to September. Those include: PST, the employer health tax, and the carbon tax. Other taxes that were set to come in, or increase, like the sugary carbonated drink tax and an increase to the carbon tax, will also be delayed.

Businesses with a payroll of more than $500,000 or higher will be able to defer their employer health tax payments until Sept. 30. Businesses with a payroll below $500,000 are already exempt.

BC Hydro customers will also have the ability to defer their bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans without penalty. ICBC customers who are on monthly payment plans and are facing challenges paying their bills because of COVID-19 will also be able to defer their payments for up to 90 days with no penalty.

Money will also be dedicated to helping the tourism, arts and culture, and hospitality sectors, with more specific details to come, said James. The province also announced $1.5 billion would be available for economic stimulus once the pandemic is over.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a massive global disruption. It's affecting each and every one of us," said James.

The legislature resumed sitting on Monday with just 12 members in attendance in order to allow for physical distancing.

“I just want to say today's proceedings are unique in the history of this chamber and in this province,” said government house leader Mike Farnworth as proceedings began.

The MLAs unanimously passed legislation to fund the relief plan and make changes to the Employment Standards Act to make sure no one gets laid off due to COVID-19.

B.C. now has 472 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and 100 people are considered fully recovered. On Monday, provincial health officials announced 48 new cases had been recorded, and three more people had died over the weekend.