COVID-19 in B.C.: $5-billion provincial plan to assist impacted businesses and individuals

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      As numerous businesses have been forced to closed while scores of workers are facing employment uncertainty or job loss across British Columbia, the provincial government revealed its plans for economic relief.

      B.C. premier John Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James announced today (March 23) that it is launching a $5 billion action plan that will provide both immediate relief to individuals and businesses impacted by COVID-19 as well as longterm recovery for the provincial economy.

      The plan includes $2.8 billion for people and funding to maintain services during the pandemic (such as healthcare, housing, and social services).

      For individuals and families, the plan will provide immediate measures for coping with potential illness, financial strain, or precarious employment due to the outbreak.

      Of that $2.8 billion, $1.1 billion is being devoted to boost incomes of people affected by COVID-19. A new B.C. emergency benefit for workers will provide a one-time, tax-free $1,000 payment to British Columbians who receive federal employment insurance or the new federal emergency care benefit or emergency support benefit, and whose ability to work has been affected by the pandemic.

      Eligible recipients include laid-off workers, anyone sick or quarantined with COVID-19, parents with sick children or who stay at home from work while childcare centres and schools are closed, and anyone caring for sick family members.

      In addition, the B.C. Climate Action Tax Credit will be increased and expanded in July. Eligible families of four receive up to $564 (increased from up to $112.50 per family of four) and eligible individuals will receive up to $218 (increased from up to $43.50 per adult).

      For critical services, B.C. is providing $1.7 billion to housing and shelters, income and disability programs, and crucial health services, such as lab tests, quarantine expenses, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control hotline.

      For non-profits, service delivery agencies, and childcare providers, B.C. will continue funding these agencies despite closures or changes to regular operations.

      All provincial student loan payments will be frozen as of March 30 (federal student loan payments are being frozen as well).

      For those struggling with bill payments, ICBC will extend deferrals for up to 90 days while B.C. Hydro’s Customer Crisis Fund grand program offers up to $600 to individuals dealing with job loss, illness, or wage losses due to the coronavirus.

      Meanwhile, $2.2 billion will be allocated for business relief as well as recovery after the crisis.

      Businesses with a payroll over $500,000 can defer employer health tax payments until September 30 (businesses with payrolls lower than the stated amount are already tax exempt).

      Tax filing and payment deadlines for numerous taxes (provincial sales tax, municipal and regional district tax, tobacco tax, motor fuel tax, and carbon tax) are also extended to September 30 while school taxes for businesses and some property classes will be reduced by 50 percent.

      B.C. has also allocated $1.5 billion for economic recovery after the pandemic, with dedicated funding for the most impacted industries, including culture, tourism, and hospitality.

      Horgan stated that these measures are only the beginning with more to come soon, including details for renters to be announced later this week.

      Meanwhile in today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, Dr. Bonnie Henry stated that there have been 48 new cases since March 12, raising the provincial total to 472 cases with 13 deaths.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook