Ontario announces $17 billion provincial aid in response to coronavirus

Mar 25 2020, 1:36 pm

Ontario unveiled a $17 billion aid package for the province in response to COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Rod Phillips released Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 (March 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update), delivered in pace of the province’s now delayed annual budget, which is being released in November.

The action plan includes $7 billion in additional resources for the health care system and direct support for people and jobs.

The province said it also will make available $10 billion in support for people and businesses through tax and other deferrals to improve their cash flow, protecting jobs and household budgets.

“As Finance Minister, my number one priority right now is ensuring that our front-line health care professionals have the resources they need to fight the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Minister Phillips in a statement.

“The people of Ontario can have confidence that we will do whatever it takes to protect their health and well-being. These additional resources will enhance hospital capacity, protect our loved ones in long-term care, and support our public health officials’ work to flatten the curve and slow the spread.”

Health care

The budget includes a $1 billion COVID-19 contingency fund for emerging needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The province is also investing $935 million for the hospital sector, including $594 million to accelerate progress on the government’s commitment to address capacity issues, as well as $341 million for an additional 1,000 acute care and 500 critical care beds and additional assessment centres.

Additionally, the Ontario government is funding $160 million to support COVID-19 monitoring, surveillance, and laboratory and home testing, while also investing in virtual care and Telehealth Ontario.

To ensure PPEs (personal protective equipment), the province is investing $75 million for critical medical supplies to front-line workers.

People and Jobs

Ontario also announced $3.7 billion that would support people and protect jobs.

“During this global pandemic, I want the people of Ontario to be focused on their health — not worrying about losing their job or how to make ends meet as they deal with unexpected additional expenses,” said Phillips. “We are helping make life a little more manageable for every person in Ontario, while providing additional support to those who need it the most.”

The investment includes a one-time payment of $200 per child up to 12 years of age to help families, and $250 for those with special needs, including children enrolled in private schools.

The province is also proposing to double the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payment for low-income seniors for six months.

It will also be providing $5.6 billion for electricity cost relief programs in 2020-21, while lowering rates for customers, which was announced earlier in the week.

The Ontario government also said it would provide emergency child care options to support parents working on the front lines, such as health care workers, police officers, firefighters and correctional officers.

It is also expanding access to the emergency assistance program administered by Ontario Works “to provide financial support to people facing economic hardship and help more people meet basic needs such as food and rent during this public health emergency.”

For students, the province will provide six months of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan and interest accrual relief.

As well, there will be $26 million provided to Indigenous peoples and communities, including emergency assistance for urban Indigenous people in financial need, and costs for health care professionals and critical supplies to reach remote First Nations.

The government’s plan also includes measures that will make available $10 billion in support for people and businesses through tax and other deferrals to improve their cash flows over the coming month.

In response today’s action plan, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she is concerned the provincial government’s financial statement lacks the direct financial assistance many Ontarians and small and medium-sized local businesses will need to get by during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Far too many workers, families and small businesses were already struggling to stay afloat before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Horwath. “Now a lot of folks have seen their incomes cut or eliminated altogether, which means they’re now laying awake at night, worried about how to keep making ends meet. They can’t wait weeks for federal support to come in, and most can’t get by with their income cut in half.”

The NDP said they will vote in favour of the financial statement bill, and allow it to pass immediately.

But Horwath also said the province needs to do better to stop some people from finding themselves in dire financial straits, and preventing some businesses from going under.

Prior to the financial statement issued on Wednesday, Horwath and the NDP called for the provincial government to send $2,000 Ontario Emergency Income cheques to households experiencing unemployment or lost income during the COVID-19 crisis.

As of today, the province said it is projecting a deficit of $9.2 billion in 2019–20, and as a result of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is planning for a deficit of $20.5 billion in 2020–21.

Ontario’s $2.5 billion reserve in 2020–21 is the highest ever in history.