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MEDIA RELEASE: Poverty Reduction Coalition Releases COVID-19 Emergency Response for Justice Calling for Urgent Provincial Action to Safeguard the Health and Well-Being of Low-Income and At-Risk British Columbians

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
March 20th, 2020
 
(Vancouver) As COVID-19 sweeps the globe and communities throughout BC, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition calls on the provincial government to implement a suite of emergency measures to safeguard the health and incomes of more than 421,000 at-risk, low income and homeless BC residents.
 
“Low income seniors, those who are already living far below the poverty line, those who are food insecure, those living in poverty with complex health issues and disabilities, those experiencing substance-use and homelessness are drastically at risk in the current COVID-19 crisis,” says Viveca Ellis, Interim Community Organizer with the Coalition, “we must act, and we must act now, there is no time to lose as the lives and well-being of our most at-risk community members hang in the balance.”
 
The Coalition urges the provincial government to implement seven emergency measures immediately to ensure safety, health and justice for British Columbians who are already economically at risk and expresses support for 36 recommendations made by Coalition members and allies.
 
“I already have no money in my account ($9.00 only) and don’t have any idea how I can handle life anymore. One income is already cut out from my household, and I have no idea how we would survive. I couldn’t afford to buy extra food or even enough food until the end of this week, [we are] just living on the things that we already have in our fridge now, which is not considerable,” says mother and Richmond resident K.D. (initials used to protect privacy).
 
Measures include raising the income and disability assistance rates immediately and ending all claw backs of earned and unearned income to ensure every dollar stays in the pockets of those on ministry supports. The Coalition also calls for a province-wide moratorium on eviction, additional provincial support for those who do not qualify for Employment Insurance, and for the provincial government to work with municipalities to seize currently empty shelter assets such as hostels and hotels to immediately provide safety, shelter and sanitation for the 7655 homeless people across the province.
 
BC residents in poverty do not have the luxury of being able to stockpile and hoard food. The Coalition is calling for the province to fund and oversee the speedy creation of a province-wide emergency food distribution system with home food delivery to ensure those who are isolated due to COVID-19 do not starve in their homes.
 
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For media interviews please contact:
 
Viveca Ellis, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC)
viveca@bcpovertyreduction.ca / 604-366-1008

 

COVID-19 Emergency Response: Safety Health and Justice for All

BCPRC COVID-19 EMERGENCY RESPONSE FOR JUSTICE

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition calls on the Province of British Columbia to:

*Provide an immediate significant monthly raise to income and disability rates in BC, with immediate distribution.

*End all the claw backs of both earned and unearned income from those on income and disability assistance to allow people to retain as much income as possible.

*Provide provincial financial support for those who are not eligible for Employment Insurance benefits.

*Implement a province-wide moratorium on all evictions.

*Seize hotel, hostel, and other available shelter assets throughout the province to provide those who are homeless and unsheltered, and those sheltered in unsafe, crowded conditions, a safe place to live and access sanitation for a minimum of 3 months, with planning in place to ensure transition to viable long-term homes after.

*Organize and fund a province-wide, province-led emergency home food delivery system, in collaboration with municipalities, targeting low-income households isolated at home due to existing health conditions, age status and general risk to COVID-19, and increase funding for non profit front-line community agencies providing meal programs in BC to purchase what they need.

*Implement a six-month period of repayment relief for all holders of provincial student loans, effective immediately.

 The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition expresses support for the implementation of 36 urgent recommendations released by BCPRC members and allies. The recommendations target multiple levels of government, categorized by the BCPRC into the following action areas: Housing Vulnerability, Worker Safety, Health Care, Migrant Rights, Homelessness & At-Risk Neighbourhoods, and Income Protection. The 36 recommendations are listed below.

HOUSING VULNERABILITY

Immediate moratorium on all evictions. (Vancouver Tenants Union, BC ACORN, VDLC, others)

Immediately suspend all mortgage and rent payments until the pandemic is over. (BCGEU)

WORKER SAFETY

Make grocery and pharmacy workers eligible for presumptive workers compensation coverage (UFCW, BCFED)

Presumptive WorkSafe coverage for community health and all community social services workers. (UFCW, BCFED)

Apply limits to the number of shoppers allowed in retail locations. (UFCW)

Provide solutions to workers’ emergency childcare needs. (UFCW)

Ensure that childcare centres that remain open have smaller groups in appropriate spaces to encourage social distancing, and arrival and pick up times are staggered to prevent clusters of people and maintain social distancing. (BCGEU)

Access to paid emergency leave as needed, with a minimum of 21 days for all workers, regardless of immigration status. (Migrant Rights Network)

HEALTH CARE

Access without fear – regardless of immigration status – to free, universal, and expanded healthcare, including testing. (Migrant Rights Network)

Set the health care escalator to 5.2% a year, as agreed upon by the provinces and health advocates. (CCPA)

Create a National Seniors Care Strategy. It would start by ramping up spending on long-term care, from 1.3% of GDP to 2% of GDP, with $800 million in the first year, and would target home care funding, which is set to expire in two years. (CCPA)

MIGRANT RIGHTS

Enact an immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement (detentions and deportations). (Migrant Rights Network)

Work permit and permanent resident status rules must be relaxed or removed, and open permits granted swiftly to workers in transition. (Migrant Rights Network)

HOMELESSNESS & AT RISK NEIGHBOURHOODS

To implement an appropriate and comprehensive COVID-19 pandemic plan for people living in Oppenheimer Park and other homeless people, that is immediately resourced, culturally safe, and actionable. (CCAP and allies) 

To immediately open the field housing in Oppenheimer Park and create an emergency on-site screening and triage station. (same as above, and below)

Cease all ‘street sweeps’ and daily displacement of homeless people from public places so they can ‘shelter in place’.

Provide accessible and actionable information to people who are currently living outdoors and in shelters.

Permit empty rooms in SROs to be rented to the homeless if needed by the most vulnerable and in-need homeless people to quarantine or self-isolate. 

Provide a meal and food distribution program, on-site mobile hand washing and sanitizing stations, mobile shower and laundry services, and extra washrooms to provide sanitation and minimize the need for lineups and over-crowding. 

To provide survival supports for sex workers so that they are not forced into more dire situations due to loss of business. 

To put on hold public hearings relating to (municipal) Park Bylaws, conditional injunction and anything else relating to displacement or eviction of homeless people. 

Support cleaning in shelters and SROs and inform and educate residents and service providers with information about what people should do and what they can expect.  

INCOME PROTECTION

Removal of the waiting period for workers accessing Employment Insurance as a result of COVID-19-related layoffs. (VDLC)

Encourage all retailers to supply workers on duty with masks, sanitizers, and paper towels. (UFCW)

Extend EI benefits to at least 75% of insurable income and reduce barriers to EI. (UFCW)

Reduce the number of working hours required to qualify for EI to 360 hours for regular and special benefits. (like sickness leave) (CCPA)

Double the EI sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 30 weeks. (CCPA)

Create a $300/week floor on benefits for low-income claimants to EI. (CCPA)

Legislated changes to the Employment Standards Act to secure immediate and retroactive job protection for workers who take sick leave, including workers that self-isolate, or are quarantined. (BC FED)

Provision of paid sick leave for all workers, including part-time and casual workers, temporary foreign workers and migrant workers, throughout the duration of isolation or quarantine. (BC FED, VDLC) IN PROGRESS

Access to income supports/transfers for workers that fall outside of current definitions of employees, including independent contractors and the self-employed. (BC FED)

Immediate waiving of any requirement for doctor’s notes for any worker. (BC FED)

Enhancement of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits during the crisis to at least 75% of insurable income, reduction of barriers to access EI, and allocation of extra support staff at Service Canada to help smoothly administer the access to EI. (BC FED) IN PROGRESS

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation should immediately provide a pool of capital to existing or new rent banks across the country so that those who can’t make the rent because of falling incomes or illness don’t lose their housing too. (BC ACORN)

Payment freeze on all high interest loans with no penalty. The federal government should also mandate that the banks and major lenders extend the mortgage default period and/or defer mortgage payments over the next six months, as Italy has done. (BC ACORN) IN PROGRESS

Allowing more of the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to be kept by seniors receiving Canada Pension Plan revenue and increasing the base value of the GIS by up to $1,000 will help sustain these seniors’ incomes. (CCPA)

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