New Measures Announced by the Federal and Provincial Government in Response to COVID-19

19 March 2020

By Lee Stevens

Our team is pleased to hear that all levels of government are quickly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety and welfare of everyone.  Here is a summary of those actions so far.

The federal government has taken action to address the pandemic and to ease the financial burden, a few of these changes include:

  • A toll-free coronavirus dedicated insurance line for people who are unable to work due to sickness or quarantine. People who are sick are asked to apply online first then to call 1-833-784-4397 (available from 7:00 a.m. to midnight EST seven days a week).
  • For people who are not sick, but their employment is affected by the coronavirus the federal government recently announced an investment of $27 billion for two new emergency benefits, the emergency care benefit for people who do not qualify for EI but are sick, quarantined, or caring for a family member who has the virus. This benefit will be paid for 14 weeks and amounts are comparable to employment insurance benefits (55% of average weekly earnings).  The emergency support benefit will be for people who do not qualify for EI and are self-employed and have to close shop because of the virus.
  • A temporary wage benefit is available for employers of small businesses so they can keep employees on the payroll.  This benefit is equal to 10% of wages or salary and is available for three months.
  • For those who owe money in taxes, they will have until August of 2020 to pay them.

The Government of Alberta is pivoting from its platform commitments and introducing new measures to address the pandemic.  These changes include:

  • New funding of $500 million to Alberta Health Services to ensure front-line health professionals have the tools they need for testing, surveillance, and treatment.
  • $60 million in one-time emergency funding is provided to civil society organizations, adult homeless shelters, and women’s emergency shelters. This funding will be administered through Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).
  • The Government will no longer be going through on changes to the way doctors are paid (they recently terminated the Alberta Medical Association’s master agreement and are imposing new measures that include phasing out the minute-15 Complex Modifiers, a fee for service model applied to patient visits exceeding 15 minutes) to a model referred to as a Clinical Alternative Relationship Plan or “ARP.” They announced they will no longer be going through with it, so doctors can concentrate on the critical tasks at hand.

We applaud these much-needed changes to our health and social safety net systems, and while these measures are positive, others are saying they may not be enough.  The school of public policy has recently published two important trend reports on recommendations for further measures by the federal government, and implications to consider for vulnerable populations.