The federal government intends to temporarily expand the eligibility of several support programs to apply to those impacted by new public health restrictions driven by the Omicron surge.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough said on Wednesday that through regulatory powers, Ottawa will make changes to the Local Lockdown Program and the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit.
Instead of applying solely to those in “complete” lockdowns of more than 14 days, the local lockdown program will include employers subject to capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more. The government is also reducing the current monthly revenue decline threshold from 40 per cent to 25 per cent. Eligible employers will receive wage and rent subsidies between 25 per cent to 75 per cent.
With the adjustments, the worker lockdown benefit will apply to workers in regions where provincial or territorial governments have introduced capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more. The benefit provides $300 a week to those eligible.
The changes are effective from Dec. 19 to Feb. 12, 2022.
The government fielded criticism after unveiling the programs, detailed in Bill C-2, as no region then or now faces a lockdown of more than 14 days.
The announcement comes as provinces and territories impose new restrictions to manage the surge of COVID-19 cases spurred by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
“These expanded federal support measures will ensure that provinces and public health authorities across the country can continue to make the right, difficult decisions they need to make to save lives, confident in the knowledge that the federal government will be there to financially support workers and businesses,” Freeland said.
Asked whether the government would consider further changes to support those, for instance, in isolation while waiting on a backlog of PCR tests results, Qualtrough pointed to the existing sickness and caregiving benefits.
“The caregiver benefit is available for 44 weeks now and the sickness benefit for eight. If your child is not able to go to school for reasons related to COVID, you can take time off work and get this benefit…if you have to self isolate, you have access to the sickness benefit,” she said.
“The lockdown benefit is additional to these two kind of foundational pieces.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was also present during the press conference Wednesday, said the government “saw the potential” of a fifth wave, which explained the urgency to get Bill C-2 passed before Parliament rose for the holidays.
“We are glad it got passed at the very end of the Parliamentary sitting. We would have liked it to have been passed earlier but having been passed now, we’re able to adjust the regulations a little bit,” he said.
The legislation also includes wage and rent subsidies through the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.