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COVID-19 Emergency Response for Justice

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

April 29th Updates

The Disability Alliance of BC urgently calls for COVID-19 supports for CPP-Disability Recipients as well as actions to protect the goals of the Registered Disability Savings Plan and the Disability Tax Credit. At this point many CPP-Disability recipients are not eligible for provincial emergency benefits specifically for low income people with disabilities. Read the letter here.

We are hearing from kinship caregivers who do not receive the additional $300 per child being added to the Canada Child Benefit. This is because for these families, the CCB is transferred to the Ministry for Children and Family Development to go towards family maintenance payments. We call on MCFD to announce that the $300 increase to the Canada Child Benefit will result in an increase of at least $300 per child in family maintenance permits so that these resources are used as intended: to support children and their families in dealing with the challenges and hardships associated with COVID-19.

BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres has requested emergency funding from the provincial government. Read more about how Friendship Centres are supporting communities during the pandemic.

The BC Federation of Students wrote to Minister Robinson asking her to relax the eligibility criteria for the Temporary Rental Supplement program and move towards a more universal system which would not require applicants to prove their loss of income or CERB eligibility. Read the letter here.

The $10aday Child Care Campaign shares updates and analysis about the government’s decision to use large financial incentives to encourage programs to remain rather than leading a province-wide coordinated plan. Read more here.

In recent weeks, BC’s provincial government announced extraordinary and positive measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the province’s long-term care and assisted living facilities. Specifically the public health order has required that most staff work at one facility only (“single-site order”); enabled public health officials to ensure compliance with the single-site order; required that all workers are paid the unionized industry standard; and, committed to full-time hours for workers required to work at a single site. These changes were necessary because many seniors’ care workers have to patch together a living by working multiple low-wage, part-time jobs in different health care facilities. The BC government will temporarily “top-up” wages to bring them in line with the industry standard for unionized staff.  Read more here.

The BC Ferry & Marine Workers’ Union shares updates about the legal actions that we shared in our last bulletin as they prepare for an arbitration process. Read the update here.

The Federal Government has announced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), a program that will provide some relief to those students who do not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). While this new program addresses some of the gaps in eligibility for the CERB, it provides markedly less financial support to students. Read the BC Federation of Students’ full update here.

The Vancouver Tenants Union shares resources and their plans to help tenants survive and build collective power during the BC Rent Crisis. See their COVID-19 BC Rent Crisis page here.

The Parent Support Services of BC share their targeted services for families available during COVID-19. See the poster here.

The UFCW1518 reiterates calls on all employers to provide paid sick leave in light of the recent outbreaks at a poultry processing plant in Vancouver and a beef processing plant in Alberta. Read their post here.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives continues to provide a wealth of analysis on their PolicyNote blog including the need to end profit-making in seniors’ care, a comparison of provincial economic responses to COVID-19, and a look at how people detained in psychiatric settings have been left out of advocacy.

The BC Federation of Labour writes about the impact of the COVID-19 on workers and the need to build a better future. Read the column.

West Coast LEAF shares ways you can support our most marginalized communities during COVID-19. Read the article here.

A message from the BC Teachers’ Federation to parents: Read their letter here.

We are one of more than 30 signatories to this letter calling for an inquest into the tragic death of a person incarcerated at Mission Institution. During the COVID-19  pandemic and always, people in prison must have their safety and health protected. Human rights apply to all people everywhere–they must not end at the doors of a correctional facility. Read more here.

April 9th Update

Today, we released a letter and media advisory with BCPRC members the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, Carnegie Community Action Project and the Pivot Legal Society calling on both municipal and provincial leadership in British Columbia to use all available powers to rapidly house every resident that does not have housing.

While we have seen action on other asks we have made in our COVID-19 Emergency Action Plan for Justice, there has not been enough progress on our key ask regarding housing the homeless immediately. Emergency powers legislation enacted by the City of Vancouver, the Province and the Provincial Health Officer can be used for rapid and collaborative action to house more than 7500 unhoused residents in BC immediately.

Recently the Province announced 900 spaces to help vulnerable people to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic. A more aggressive plan is needed to meet the urgency of thousands of unhoused residents who are unable to self-isolate or practice physical distancing, creating further health safety risks for a population already vulnerable to chronic health issues.

The Province has clear and direct authority to make use of public or private property for use to respond to this pandemic. There is no reason we should not be using every available resource to house people and prevent infection and death. There is no time to wait.

We are calling on all BCPRC members and allies, individuals and organizations, to urgently endorse the open letter at: http://bcpovertyreduction.ca/take-action/covid19_homelessness_action/

April 8th Update

Greetings from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. Thank you for your continued commitment as we stand together to protect our communities and leave nobody behind. Welcome to the third BCPRC COVID-19 Public Progress Alert

On April 2, the BC government announced emergency financial support including an extra $300 per month for people receiving income and disability assistance and some very low income seniors, for three months. After responding to the announcement together on the CBC, Viveca Ellis from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Iglika Ivanova from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives co-produced an analysis of what this represents:

  • The monthly assistance rate for a single person considered employable is $760, so a $300 crisis supplement represents a very significant increase. However, even with this temporary increase, the welfare income for a single person only amounts to half of the poverty line (as measured by Statistics Canada’s Market Basket Measure, adopted by the federal government as Canada’s official poverty line).
  • An estimated 10,000 BC households with disabilities and 1,000 households on temporary assistance who qualify for the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) or regular EI will not have that money clawed back. 
  • Our recommendations for immediate further action are to permanently raise income assistance rates to at least 75% of the poverty line, waive asset limits for the duration of the pandemic and streamline the application process.

BCPRC members Disability Alliance of BC, Community Legal Assistance Society and Together Against Poverty Society joined First United Church Community Ministry Society and Atira Women’s Resource Society in asking important follow-up questions about these announcements. This includes asking for supports for people who receive federal disability assistance, a call to remove caps on existing crisis supplements, ensuring access to services, and that the Ministry will not pursue overpayments for undeclared earnings on which CERB/EI applications are based. 

On Tuesday, the government announced that over 900 spaces have been secured at 23 sites including hotels, motels and community centres throughout BC for those who need a place to self-isolate and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We know there is a bare minimum of 7,655 unhoused people in BC. What’s more, the Provincial Government acknowledges “more rooms have been identified” but they will only use them “if a need is identified by health authorities.” Minister Farnworth has the power to request, and has apparently received, a list of all spaces available to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. We are dismayed that since the Ministry’s March 21st press release which mentioned 16 sites throughout the province, there has not been more progress on our key recommendation that they “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.” We have teamed up with the Pivot Legal Society and the Carnegie Community Action Project and few other active allies to address the need for more action on this front. Please stay tuned.

Updates

The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training has announced an injection of $3.5 million into emergency funds for students at post-secondary institutions to assist students in uncertain financial positions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about supports for students from the Alliance of BC Students and the BC Federation of Students.

The BC Ferry & Marine Workers’ Union was blindsided by the sudden layoff of hundreds of their members in what they believe is a breach of their Collective Agreement. They have now filed an Unfair Labour Practices Complaint against BC Ferries. Read more here.

The BCGEU wrote to the Minister of Finance to demand immediate action to support the tens of thousands of BCGEU members deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the letter here.

In case you missed it, the provincial government announced that youth in government care who turn 19 during the COVID-19 pandemic will have their care agreements extended, and that those on the Agreements with Young Adults Program will continue to receive support. Fostering Change’s press release welcomed the announcement.

New Recommendations (in addition to the 36 previously shared recommendations)

ACORN BC is demanding urgent action for suspension of rent, a loan payment freeze, internet for all and an end to NSF Fees. Click here to take Action

Bronwyn Elko who graduated from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s Community Action Network, and her daughter CAN chef Charlotte Zesati raised an important issue:  businesses are turning down cash payments. The BC Centre for Disease Control says the risk of transmitting COVID-19 via cash is low and that “refusing cash could put an undue burden on people who depend on cash as a means of payment.” 

The BC Health Coalition joined Health Coalitions across the country in calling on all levels of government to work together to address existing health inequities including by removing barriers to access and scaling up services for marginalized communities, restoring capacity in our public hospitals by reopening facilities and beds that have been closed due to funding cuts and downsizing, and bringing for-profit health care facilities under public control to enable a rapid and streamlined response in the public interest.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called on the federal government to make charities and community non-profits immediately eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.

The Employment Standards Coalition lead the call in BC for employment standards legislation that will provide for 21 days of paid emergency leave for all workers for the balance of 2020.

The Hospital Employees’ Union wrote to BC’s health employers sharing how more supports for health care workers are needed. Read more here.

UFCW 1518 and the BCGEU are asking that Community Health home support workers receive pay rises to account for the critical nature of their work during COVID-19 as well as for clear safety guidelines and standards for the use of PPE. Add your voice here.

The UFCW asks the BC Government to grant grocery, pharmacy, industrial food processors, and home care workers the same childcare provisions that have been offered to essential workers. Sign the letter here

West Coast LEAF argues that Canada’s recent pandemic-related shutdown of its border with the United States is an unprecedented move and one that is contrary to Canada’s legal and ethical responsibilities. Read more here.

The Migrant Workers Centre has sent a position paper to the Minister of Health outlining the need to permanently reinstate MSP coverage to temporary foreign workers on implied status, meaning workers who have applied to extend their work permits and are waiting for a decision while maintaining their legal entitlement to live and work in Canada. Read the press release here.

Events

Women Against Violence Against Women, Battered Women’s Support Services, the Ending Violence Association of BC and the BC Federation of Labour are hosting a conversation about sexual and domestic violence during COVID-19 on Thursday April 9 at 10:30 AM. Click here to register.

Analysis

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is providing ongoing analysis at policynote.ca including articles on economic policy measures in BC, food insecurity and hunger and protecting the health and rights of migrant agricultural workers.

Leslie Varley, the executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, spoke on the CBC about what COVID-19 means for urban Indigenous people.

The Vancouver Foundation shared how Neighbourhood Houses are playing important roles meeting vital needs during a crisis.

The BC Non-Profit Housing Association analyzes the unprecedented challenges created by COVID-19 and where new additional funding is needed.

Teri Mooring, President of the BC Teachers’ Federation speaks on the CBC to answer questions from students, parents, and teachers about the pandemic and its impact on the K-12 system. Click here to listen.

The Hospital Employees’ Union shares how a partially privatized system is leaving thousands of  essential hospital and care home cleaning workers undervalued, underpaid, and excluded from full participation in the province’s health-care workforce.

The BCGEU alongside the National Union of Public and General Employees shared a poll showing broad support for the recommendation to halt mortgage, rent and utility payments.

The Migrant Workers Centre did a webinar about accessing federal and provincial income supports.

PovNet shares important updates about service changes as a result of COVID-19.

March 30th Update

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.