Though it’s far from perfect, Canada’s response to the coronavirus has been more successful than many other nations. However, last month, strains of the variant coronavirus were found in 10 local provinces, with outbreaks occurring in Newfoundland and Labrador. Though vaccine distributions are well underway, people are still very much at risk — both with regard to health and financial stability.
In an effort to lower the financial risk for the country’s citizens, the national government extended the period for when people can receive pandemic income benefits. This includes the income support program put forward by the CRB (Canada Recovery Benefit), which is the program that replaced the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit). The CRB is primarily for employed and self-employed individuals who do not qualify for EI (Employment Insurance) benefits. It provides eligible parties with $1,000 over two weeks. This, however, poses some problems, particularly for Canada’s student demographic — problems that have been present even before the pandemic began.
In response to this, the #DontForgetStudents petition was created. The movement was started in July 2020 by Brandon Rhéal Amyot, a third-year political science student. He proposed that the Canadian government freeze all student debt in light of the pandemic and its effects. In November of last year, the House of Commons put forward a motion to do just this. However, it was not passed and the government settled with pausing interest on student loans. The petition also called for student eligibility in the CERB, but they were instead given the CESB (Canadian Emergency Student Benefit) that was unfortunately underutilized as some students were unable to access it during the allowed timeframe.
The CERB, CRB, and EI benefits all apply to citizens that are employed. This leaves out students who still have to pay university tuition, accommodation fees, and the costs of necessities, like food and water. While many students have their RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) to fall back on, this fund can only stretch so far. After all, upon application, RESPs already have a designated contribution limit. Legally, benefactors can only contribute a lifetime maximum of $50,000 to each of their beneficiaries. Even with government grants and investments, the final amount is not meant to cover the full tuition of a four-year undergraduate program, which usually costs anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. This is excluding auxiliary fees, such as accommodations, utilities, and miscellaneous needs.
The qualifications for pandemic benefits also pose problems for recent graduates who are struggling to find work amid the global health crisis. Hundreds of businesses closed down during the start of the pandemic, causing the unemployment rate to skyrocket. This undoubtedly makes it more difficult for newly graduated students to find a job, which is all the more worrying given that many are likely already burdened with student debt.
Now that the national government is discussing the possible extension of pandemic benefits programs, those in support of the #DontForgetStudents movement are once again clamoring for the inclusion of students and recent graduates. Advocates believe that the affected parties need more help now than ever before, citing that many students are already struggling with food insecurity and severe financial issues.
As of today, the petition has amassed over 47,000 signatures, nearing its goal of 50,000. If you want to sign the petition, you can find it here.
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