The federal government will roll out a significant financial relief package for students. The government estimates that the new, student-centred measures announced today amount to $9 billion in support.
Students who’ve seen summer jobs dry up and who don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will have access to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. The new program will replace students’ lost summer income at $1,250 a month from May to August. Those who are also providing care for someone, or who have a disability will have access to $2,000 a month (up from the initial proposal of $1,750). Current students, students beginning their studies in September 2020, and those who graduated after December 2019 are eligible for the program.
Like the CERB, the new emergency benefit will be administered through the Canada Revenue Agency and students may earn up to $1,000 a month while also receiving federal aid.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the plan during his regular press briefing today. “From coast to coast to coast, young people are pitching in and doing their part, so we’re going to do the same for them,” he said. “As young people, what you’re going through matters and we want to make sure you’re OK.”
The prime minister announced a new Canada Student Service Grant for students who are volunteering during the pandemic. Depending on the amount of volunteer time, applicants may receive between $1,000 and $5,000. He noted that the government will also “double” the amount awarded through the Canada Student Grant as well as through student grants from the territories and Quebec for the 2020-2021 school year. Another $75 million has been pledged for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students.
Meanwhile, $291.6 million has been earmarked for the Tri-Agency granting councils to extend graduate student scholarships, fellowships and grants for the next three to four months. In an emailed statement, Science Minister Navdeep Bains said that this investment of “immediate support … will help ensure that the next generation of researchers and highly qualified personnel are able to weather this challenging period and quickly ramp up their activities during the recovery.”
On the employment front, the government will create 76,000 jobs in sectors “that need help right now,” such as agriculture, and in areas considered essential in the country’s COVID-19 response. These jobs are in addition to those offered through Canada Summer Jobs, which received a funding boost earlier this month.
Several student groups had criticized the federal government for the eligibility criteria it imposed on the CERB. The program provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks to Canadians who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and had an income of at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months – an eligibility requirement that many students and recent graduates don’t meet.
More than 44,400 signatures have been added to a change.org petition called #Don’tForgetStudents. The petition asks the Canadian government “to provide income support to cover all students and recent graduates, regardless of prior work experience and income.”
Student organizations, including Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities, a coalition of student associations at U15 institutions, and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations had released recommendations to the government, which included a student-specific funding stream through CERB and an expansion of the Canada Student Grant program.
These student groups have responded positively to the new student financial aid plan. “Today’s [announcement] is taking a lot of pressure off the students’ shoulders. They can finally go through their finals or research without worrying about May 1st rent,” said Philippe LeBel, president of the Quebec Student Union, in a press release written jointly with CASA.
Before today’s announcement, the government had also put an interest-free pause on student loan repayments for six months. And Statistics Canada developed a survey, which closes on May 1, about the “educational, employment and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic” that students are experiencing.
Mr. Trudeau said that the Liberal government will work with the opposition parties to pass a student funding bill and that details on the new programs will come in the following days.