Liberals revise COVID-19 wage subsidy, ease eligibility in bid to boost takeup

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Liberals are easing eligibility rules for the government's emergency wage subsidy and changing the amounts businesses can receive.

The government had been under pressure to make the subsidy more accessible, specifically by loosening the requirement of a 30 per cent drop in revenues, so more companies under that cut-off can qualify.

Speaking in Toronto, Morneau says the rules will be changed so amounts paid out will be proportional to revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program is the heart of the Liberals' promise to help Canadians get back to work, even if has to be at a slower pace, as the pandemic wanes.

Morneau's fiscal update last week boosted the budget for the program to $82.3 billion from $45 billion in a sign of impending changes and an extension beyond this summer.

Morneau says the program will now end Dec. 19.

He's hoping the extension will give companies confidence to rehire workers, knowing what the rules are and that the program will be around for longer.

The most recent federal figures for the program show the government has given almost $20.4 billion in payroll help to about 262,200 companies.

The government's proposed changes to the wage subsidy are part of a bill that will be debated next week when the House of Commons sits, including a one-time disability payment and extensions to some court deadlines that were both in a bill that failed to pass the Commons in June.

Speaking in Ottawa on Friday afternoon, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the bill will widen the number of recipients from those receiving a disability tax credit to include those receiving Canada Pension Plan disability payments or supports from Veterans Affairs Canada.

Each would receive a $600 one-time, tax-free payment, she said.

The legislation proposes offering the payment to anyone who applies for the disability tax credit within 60 days of Parliament approving the bill.

"This financial support matters. Canadians with disabilities can have confidence that we will bring this project past the finish line," said Qualtrough, who has responsibility for disability issues.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2020.

The Canadian Press