Sonia Furstenau column: Programs available to help people hit by COVID-19

Let’s not forget, as we emerge from this crisis, what we are capable of achieving.

By Sonia Furstenau

In response to COVID-19, the provincial government has made announcements to support British Columbians during this unprecedented health crisis. Below are some of the recent announcements from the province.

BC Hydro has announced three months credit from April-June on power bills to those who have lost their jobs or are unable to work as a result of COVID-19 and for small businesses that have been forced to close due to the pandemic. This credit does not have to be repaid.

This announcement is good news for individuals and small businesses. I recognize that small and medium-sized businesses are the hearts and souls of our communities and we want to do everything we can to advocate for them at this time, and also recognize that the pressures facing them are enormous. The last thing we want is to lose our local businesses. The B.C. Green Caucus are asking the province to step up in any way that they can, to make sure our entrepreneurs and local businesses are supported throughout this crisis.

I am grateful to have been part of an all-party working group, called Safe Seniors Strong Community, led by B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie. We have put together a plan to support seniors through this period. If you are a senior and need any kind of support please call 211 to receive assistance for your needs. If you are a volunteer who would like to provide support for seniors, call the 211 phone number or use the United Way’s online tool: http://bc211.ca

The province has also announced additional supports for the most vulnerable citizens. For people in B.C. currently receiving income assistance or disability assistance, the province will temporarily exempt federal employment insurance benefits, including the new $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

There is also an automatic $300 monthly crisis supplement for the next three months for anyone not eligible for the federal support programs. This supplement will also be provided to low-income seniors who receive the B.C. Seniors Supplement.

With the current provincewide suspension of BC Transit and Translink bus fares, the province will also provide all B.C. Bus Pass Program users receiving income assistance and disability assistance with the $52 Transportation Supplement for the duration of the fare suspension.

There are still gaps in support for many people. We are monitoring these programs through our constituency office and, together with the Cowichan Leadership Group, we will continue working with government to help ensure that people get what they need.

I remain incredibly grateful to everyone in the Cowichan Valley regarding how we’ve been able to come together (while staying apart). One thing that has been particularly heartening for me amongst all of this is the emerging stories of communities around the world. Just as here in Cowichan, experienced and new volunteers are stepping up to help those in need, strangers organize to support our most vulnerable, neighbours are reaching out and caring for each other. These are the stories of hope that remind us that we are resilient when we work together. Let’s not forget, as we emerge from this crisis, what we are capable of achieving.

To all the health care workers, support staff, grocery store workers, food services providers, transport workers, volunteers, and all those who continue to hold the essential threads of our society and community together, thank you.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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