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Trudeau announces billions for students struggling in COVID-19 era

Wednesday, April 22, 2020 @ 3:24 PM | By Terry Davidson

Canada’s government is moving to give $9 billion in targeted aid to post-secondary students struggling with earning money and finding jobs during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.

On April 22, during his daily address to the nation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the launch of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), which is aimed at supporting students and new graduates not eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The new plan is aimed at helping students feeling the pinch during the widescale economic shutdown that has been ordered as part of efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  

Under the CESB, eligible students could get $1,250 per month from May to August. Those who have dependents or disabilities would get $1,750 per month.

Trudeau said the CESB is also available to students who are working but are making under $1,000 per month.

“This benefit is designed for you,” said Trudeau, “if you’re a post-secondary student right now, if you’re going to college in September, or if you graduated in December 2019. It’s there for you even if you have a job but you’re only making up to $1,000 a month. The period covered by the benefit will start on May 1, and your payments will be delivered through the Canada Revenue Agency. We’ll be working with opposition parties to move forward on legislation to put this new benefit in place.”  

The PM also announced the new Canada Student Service Grant, which will he said will help students get work experience through volunteering in the fight against the pandemic. These students could earn between $1,000 and $5,000 for fall tuition.

Trudeau, in acknowledging that the pandemic has meant fewer job opportunities, announced the creation of “76,000 jobs for young people in addition to the Canada Summer Jobs Program.” 

“These placements will be in sectors that need an extra hand right now, or that are on the front lines of this pandemic,” he said, later adding that these sectors could include contact tracing and agriculture.  

The government is also expanding existing employment and skills development programs to create up to 116,000 jobs and placements over the coming summer months. It will also double the Canada Student Grants for those eligible — up to $6,000 for full-time students and $3,600 for those studying part time — for the 2020-21 school year.  

Students under the Canada Students Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities and Students with Dependents will also see their benefits doubled.
There will also be an additional $75.2 million in support for First Nations, Inuit and Métis post-secondary students for 2020-21.

The federal government will extend expiring graduate research scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships, as well as supplement current federal research grants by giving $291.6 million to federal granting councils.

During his address, Trudeau spoke of students who fall through the cracks — specifically, those who do not qualify for the CERB, which provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks to Canadians who have lost work but had an income of at least $5,000 in the past 12 months.

“Many students are eligible for new programs we’ve brought in over the last few weeks,” said Trudeau. “Many students will get the [CERB]. But others won’t. And that leaves some young people worried about what they’re going to do. COVID-19 has meant that there aren’t as many jobs out there for students, and without a job it can be hard to pay for tuition or the day-to-day basics. You might normally have turned to your parents for help but, right now, mom and dad are stretched, too. And even if monthly bills aren’t the concern, you may have been counting on the summer job for next year’s tuition or to get the right experience for your career. … We want to make sure you’re OK.”

Trudeau was asked why he does not make the CERB a universal benefit to help others who are financially falling short due to the pandemic. 

“Our focus at this point, and from the very beginning, has been on getting help to people who needed it,” he said. “There are millions of Canadians who need help, there are others who do not need help, and we feel that targeting the maximum amount of help to the people who needed it quickly was the right way to begin to get through this process.”

Later, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough said young Canadians face specific challenges due to the pandemic.

“Post-secondary students are worried about how they’ll be able to afford tuition, food and rent if they can’t find summer work,” said Qualtrough, who went on to talk about COVID-19 causing interrupted studies, reduced work opportunities and disruptions to summer co-op programs and internships.

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