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March 30 COVID Progress Alert: Safety, Health and Justice for All

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Greetings from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. Our best wishes to everyone working tirelessly under pressure and caring for those most at risk to COVID-19—both in our own lives and in the greater community. This is the second BCPRC COVID-19 Public Progress Alert. Progress Alerts will highlight the unfolding work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, our members and allies, and the collective advocacy we must undertake to ensure safety, health and economic justice for all during the COVID-19 crisis. We will monitor local, provincial and federal progress to mitigate the impact of the crisis on those experiencing health and economic inequities.

Last week, we released a press release and the BCPRC COVID-19 Emergency Response for Justice recommending a suite of emergency actions we recommend our provincial government take, working with all ministries across government. We also expressed support for 36 recommendations made by Coalition members and allies. This progress alert shares updates on our key recommendations.

Congratulations to the dedicated advocates leading the call for ‘safe supply’ to confront the drug poisoning crisis in B.C. The City of Vancouver announced the provision of safe supply in the Downtown Eastside to tackle the poisoned drug epidemic and protect those at risk of overdose and harm during the COVID-19 crisis. We’ll be watching along with many of our member organizations for the details as they come out.

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

1. Provide an immediate significant monthly raise to income and disability rates in B.C., with immediate distribution.

PROGRESS: On Saturday March 21, Minister Simpson and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction announced a “crisis supplement model to provide additional money.” No further details about what this will look like have been released despite cheque day passing on Wednesday. It is unclear whether those accessing income and disability assistance who have lost their jobs and ‘earned income’ are eligible for the $1000 provincial subsidy available. Welfare and disability rates remain far below the poverty line; these incomes are untenable at any time, and leave may at great risk during the COVID-19 crisis.

2. 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.

PROGRESS: No further details have been released regarding ending claw backs of both earned and unearned income from those accessing income and disability assistance. B.C.’s most food insecure households must be able to maximize their incomes immediately and buy the food and supplies they need to self-isolate for extended periods of time. This is particularly important as key supports announced by both the Federal Government (the Canada Emergency Response Benefit) and the Provincial Government (the BC Emergency Benefit for Workers) are being delivered through the Employment Insurance system. Unless clarified otherwise, people with disabilities who qualify for those benefits could have them clawed back.

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

PROGRESS: The one-time $1000 BC Emergency Benefit for Workers will be available to British Columbians who receive federal Employment Insurance as well as to those who receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. It is essential that the still undeveloped criteria for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit be broad enough to cover people who have seen hours of work or wages reduced but have not been laid off, workers in informal and gig economies, and workers regardless of immigration status, Social Insurance Number or income earned in previous years. They are also boosting the Climate Action Tax Credit by up to $112.50 per family of four and up to $43.50 per adult, and temporarily boosting the Canada Child Tax by $300. While these cash transfers are welcome, they must increase in amount and extend over a longer period to make a difference for families living far below the poverty line during COVID-19.

4. Implement a province-wide moratorium on all evictions.

PROGRESS: This was announced on Wednesday, March 25th and we applaud the province for taking this action. Congratulations to all the BCPRC members an allies who took bold, quick action to make this recommendation to government. Further clarity is needed on whether this will apply to people who are not considered tenants under the Residential Tenancy Act including those in student housing, supportive housing or living in manufactured homes.

5. 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.

PROGRESS: On Saturday March 21st this was mentioned by Minister Simpson and Minister Robinson at a press conference on Saturday. The press release stated they would:

  • Conduct a province-wide inventory and identify sites available in 16 communities for accommodating vulnerable populations, including those in need of spaces for self-isolation.
  • Respond to the increased risk of violence against women and children that can occur as a result of social distancing by accommodating women and children fleeing violence in hotel rooms on as-needed basis.
  • Identify more than 1,000 modular homes that are ready to be installed quickly if required, while coordinating with local governments and health authorities on where these resources might be best deployed.
  • Procure sprung structures that can be set up in a matter of days in open areas to provide additional shelter if required.
  • Extend operation of temporary shelters where possible in order to maintain shelter space that would otherwise close at the end of March 2020.

The City of Vancouver announced Tuesday a collaboration with Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing to secure hotel rooms for those who are homeless or accessing a shelter and require isolation. We are currently investigating and monitoring the speed, scope and scale of this measure. A much faster and bolder response is required to make progress on this front.

6. 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 B.C. to purchase what they need.

On Saturday, the government announced that they would be arranging food delivery service, starting next week, for tenants in subsidized and affordable housing in the Lower Mainland experiencing food security challenges, and that this will be replicated in other regions if required. We don’t yet know the scale and scope of this service or what efforts will target rural and remote communities.

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

This was announced on Monday. Thank you to all the BCPRC members and supporters who called for this action!

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition expressed support for 36 urgent recommendations released by BCPRC members and allies targeting multiple levels of government. Here are some updates on the 36 recommendations listed below. Please stay tuned for a full update on progress in the Downtown Eastside.

Announced Measures

  1. Immediate moratorium on all evictions. (Vancouver Tenants Union, BC ACORN, VDLC, others) Read more
  2. Apply limits to the number of shoppers allowed in retail locations. (UFCW) Read more
  3. 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) Read more
  4. 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) Read more
  5. Immediate waiving of any requirement for doctor’s notes for any worker. (BC FED) Read more

Partially Met

  1. Access without fear – regardless of immigration status – to free, universal, and expanded healthcare, including testing. (Migrant Rights Network) Individuals present in B.C. who would otherwise not be eligible for coverage under MSP will be provided provincially insured health care coverage for services related to suspected or confirmed cases of infection with COVID-19. This is contingent on them having called 8-1-1 or otherwise being advised by a medical professional to seek care for symptoms related to COVID-19. Services for unrelated conditions that are performed on non-eligible MSP patients will remain uninsured Read more
  2. Enact an immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement (detentions and deportations). (Migrant Rights Network) Deportations have largely been halted, but detention continues. Read more
  3. Removal of the waiting period for workers accessing Employment Insurance as a result of COVID-19-related layoffs. (VDLC) Waiting period was only waived for sickness benefits not for layoffs or other benefits. Read more
  4. Access to income supports/transfers for workers that fall outside of current definitions of employees, including independent contractors and the self-employed. (BC FED) As discussed above
  5. 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. (CCAP and allies) General announcement from the City of Vancouver although difficult to follow details of implementation Read more

Still Waiting

  1. 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)
  2. Immediately suspend all mortgage and rent payments until the pandemic is over. (BCGEU)
  3. Make all essential workers eligible for presumptive workers compensation coverage (BCFED, UFCW, BCFED) Read more here
  4. Provide solutions to workers’ emergency childcare needs. (UFCW)
  5. Access to paid emergency leave as needed, with a minimum of 21 days for all workers, regardless of immigration status. (Migrant Rights Network)
  6. Set the health care escalator to 5.2% a year, as agreed upon by the provinces and health advocates. (CCPA)
  7. 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)
  8. Work permit and permanent resident status rules must be relaxed or removed, and open permits granted swiftly to workers in transition. (Migrant Rights Network)
  9. 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) 
  10. To immediately open the field housing in Oppenheimer Park and create an emergency on-site screening and triage station. (same as above, and below)
  11. Cease all ‘street sweeps’ and daily displacement of homeless people from public places so they can ‘shelter in place’.
  12. Provide accessible and actionable information to people who are currently living outdoors and in shelters.
  13. 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. 
  14. 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. 
  15. To provide survival supports for sex workers so that they are not forced into more dire situations due to loss of business. 
  16. To put on hold public hearings relating to (municipal) Park Bylaws, conditional injunction and anything else relating to displacement or eviction of homeless people. 
  17. Encourage all retailers to supply workers on duty with masks, sanitizers, and paper towels. (UFCW)
  18. Extend EI benefits to at least 75% of insurable income and reduce barriers to EI. (UFCW, BCFED)
  19. Reduce the number of working hours required to qualify for EI to 360 hours for regular and special benefits (like sickness leave). (CCPA)
  20. Double the EI sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 30 weeks. (CCPA)
  21. Create a $300/week floor on benefits for low-income claimants to EI. (CCPA)
  22. 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)
  23. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to 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. (BC ACORN)
  24. 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
  25. Allow 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)

Please stay tuned for more from the BCPRC as this crisis unfolds.