OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $9 billion aid package for students Wednesday, as they confront the reality of a summer without the jobs they need to pay fall tuition.
Trudeau has promised help for students for weeks and there have been calls to add them to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
The support Trudeau is offering is a similar benefit, with students qualifying for monthly payments for May through August. There will also be grant programs for students who volunteer this summer, and the government is aiming to create 76,000 paid jobs.
The prime minister said he hoped it would help them to get through the next few months.
“This uncertainty that you feel can be overwhelming, but in Canada we look out for each other, we value education, service, hard work. These measures will help you get through this so you can build that career you have been looking forward to.”
The new benefit will pay students $1,250 per month, with that figure rising to $1,750 if they have a dependent to support. CERB pays $2,000 a month, with more available for people with children.
New Democrats are glad the government is finally turning its focus to help students, but another complicated system is not what students need and it comes weeks late
The program will apply both to recent grads and to high school students who are starting post-secondary education in the fall for the first time. It will require the government to pass new legislation in the House of Commons.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberals have been too slow to offer help and should have just extended the CERB payments.
“New Democrats are glad the government is finally turning its focus to help students, but another complicated system is not what students need and it comes weeks late,” he said in a statement.
Singh also questioned why students are getting less than they would under CERB.
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, as efforts continue to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ottawa, Ontario, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable
“It makes no sense that a parent that has to take care of their children can apply for the CERB and get $2,000, but a parent that is also a student will only get between $1,250 and $1,750. Feeding your kids costs the same.”
Since the government first announced support payments, it has had to expand its offerings several times to cover more people, including part-time workers. Trudeau is still promising more changes to help seniors or retirees who don’t currently qualify.
Trudeau was asked Wednesday why the government has rolled out a piecemeal approach to support programs rather than simply providing money to everyone through a universal payment. He said the government wanted to focus on those who have lost incomes.
“There are millions of Canadians who need help,” he said. “There are others who do not need help. And we felt and we feel that targeting the maximum amount of help to the people who needed it quickly was the right way to begin.”
The government is also pledging to hire more students, possibly for positions in virus contact tracing, as well as in agricultural businesses that are facing challenges during the COVID-19 crisis.
David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said they were worried when students were initially left out of the CERB program.
“We were concerned that a lot of students were going to fall through the cracks, because they didn’t qualify,” he said. “This is going to help get us through to August.”
Robinson also questioned why students were getting less than they would under CERB, but said it’s a good start. He said the problems for the university sector will continue into the fall, even if students can return to classes normally.
He said many Canadian universities rely on international students who may not now be able to come to Canada, and that will be a major financial hit for those schools.
“A lot of our institutions are heavily reliant on international students,” he said.
He said before the fall the government needs to come up with a way to address these problems that will cause issues in the short term.
“What we are looking for is a coordinated plan between the feds and the provinces to make sure our system remains viable.”
Trudeau also announced grant programs for students who volunteer over the summer, and an extension of any federally funded graduate or post-doctoral programs that help people stay in class for longer.
He stressed Canada will need students ready to surge into the economy when the crisis has passed.
“Things may be hard for the next little while, but we are going to help you through this,” he said. “When the economy comes roaring back, you will define our path forward, a path toward a better more equal society. That is what we are doing together.”