Nearly 5.4 million receiving emergency federal aid as requests climb

Government has received 5.97 million claims for financial help since the crisis began

OTTAWA — The federal government says nearly 5.4 million Canadians are now receiving emergency aid to replace incomes lost due to COVID-19.

The figures this morning show 5.38 million applications have been processed since March 15, a figure that includes people who were previously on employment insurance before being moved over to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

During the first week it was available, there were just under 3.5 million claims for the $2,000-a-month benefit, including nearly 172,000 over the past two days.

In all, the government has received 5.97 million claims for financial help since the crisis began about one month ago.

More help is to arrive next week in the form of a new loan program to help eligible small businesses cover costs.

And more federal aid from a 75-per-cent wage subsidy program, approved by Parliament on Saturday, will be available by early May.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre is calling on the government to rejig the credit program that runs through banks and credit unions to increase the value of loans and allow small businesses to use it to pay wages.

He says that would help companies pay workers now instead of waiting a few weeks for the wage-subsidy program to pay out.

When the government is able to pay the subsidy to eligible businesses, Poilievre is proposing that companies take the first tranche to pay off the increased loans.

The Opposition Conservatives are also calling on the Trudeau Liberals to come up with a plan specifically to help the nation’s restaurant, hospitality and tourism sectors.

Many of those businesses were either among the first to close due to public health concerns related to COVID-19, or have seen dramatic declines as consumer spending drops.

A handful of Conservative critics say in a statement this morning that the government must give these businesses the tools to open their doors again, and to retain workers through the pandemic, especially in areas with historically high unemployment.

Among the ideas being proposed are temporarily allowing owner-operators to qualify for the federal wage-subsidy program as well as refunding a year’s worth of GST remittances to small businesses.

A report last week by the parliamentary budget officer estimated that refunding federal sales tax to small businesses would cost Ottawa’s coffers about $12.9 billion

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