On Wednesday, the provincial government announced and passed their economic and fiscal update which will see $17 billion in spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $17 billion is split between three types of support: $3.7 billion for people and jobs, $3.3 billion for health care, and $10 billion to improve cash flow through tax and other deferrals.
“There’s two parts to this: there’s direct support, and there’s indirect support,” Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey said. “There’s $10 billion in indirect support for things like deferred payments of WSIB, a whole variety of payroll items that don’t need to be paid right away. That will happen immediately.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath questioned why most help for individuals came in the form of deferrals and tax breaks, instead of money in their hands.
“I think she was incorrect. Things like the interest-free period on the OSAP, it’s literally interest-free. It’s not accruing while that’s happening,” said Downey.
Downey also pointed to the Guaranteed Annual Income program for seniors coming in at a cost of $75 million.
“That’s real money in their pocket,” he said.
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin said the focus on health care was necessary in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented and monumental challenge. Our government was elected to restore Ontario’s books to balance, and we took action as soon as we were elected to do so,” Khanjin said in an interview with BarrieToday.
“While we invested in Ontario’s public health and education systems, we found also found prudent savings," she added. "We did so because it was the responsible thing to do.”
Khanjin said she shared the specific concerns she’s heard from constituents with her colleagues and that input went into the development of the plan.
“The government is providing relief to everyone in our community – families, workers, seniors, businesses, and not-for-profits – in response to these concerns,” she said.
Overall, Downey said this fiscal update is different from a budget in that it could change as needs evolve.
“This is Phase 1. This is sort of our first step,” said Downey. “What we do beyond this, we’ll have to evaluate how things are going. We’re spending where we think we need to out of the gate, and we’ll be re-evaluating everything as we go.”
According to the update, the province is projecting a deficit of $9.2 billion in 2019-20. As a result of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are planning for a deficit of $20.5 billion in 2020-21. Ontario’s $2.5 billion reserve in 2020-21 is the highest ever in history.
The government has said they will release a multi-year provincial budget by Nov. 15.
Breakdown of the $17 billion in funding
$3.3 billion for health care
- $1 billion COVID-19 contingency fund for emerging needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
- $935 million for the hospital sector, including $594 million to accelerate progress on the government's commitment to address capacity issues, as well as $341 million for an additional 1,000 acute-care and 500 critical-care beds and additional assessment centres.
- Increasing public health funding by $160 million to support COVID-19 monitoring, surveillance, and laboratory and home testing, while also investing in virtual care and Telehealth Ontario.
- $243 million for surge capacity in the long-term care sector, as well as funding for 24/7 screening, more staffing to support infection control, and supplies and equipment.
- $75 million to supply personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to front-line staff.
$3.7 billion to support people and to protect jobs
- Helping families pay for the extra costs associated with school and daycare closures during the COVID-19 outbreak by providing a one-time payment of $200 per child up to 12 years of age, and $250 for those with special needs, including children enrolled in private schools.
- $75 million to seniors, who may need more help to cover essential expenses during the COVID‑19 outbreak, by proposing to double the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) maximum payment for low-income seniors, for six months starting in April 2020.
- $5.6 billion for electricity cost relief programs in 2020-21, which is an increase of approximately $1.5 billion compared to the 2019 budget.
- Setting electricity prices for residential, farm and small business time-of-use customers at the lowest rate, known as the off-peak price, 24 hours a day for 45 days
- $9 million in direct support to families for their energy bills by expanding eligibility for the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and ensuring that their electricity and natural gas services are not disconnected for nonpayment during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Providing emergency child-care options to support parents working on the front lines, such as health care workers, police officers, firefighters and correctional officers.
- $52 million to expanding access to the emergency assistance program administered by Ontario Works.
- Enhancing funding by $148 million for charitable and non-profit social services organizations such as food banks, homeless shelters, churches and emergency services to improve their ability to respond to COVID-19.
- Providing six months of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan and interest accrual relief for students.
- Helping to support regions lagging in employment growth with a proposed new Corporate Income Tax Credit, the Regional Opportunities Investment Tax Credit.
- $26 million to Indigenous peoples and communities, including emergency assistance for urban Indigenous people in financial need, and costs for health care professionals and critical supplies to reach remote First Nations.
$10 billion in support for people and businesses through tax and other deferrals
- $6 billion by providing five months of interest and penalty relief for businesses to file and make payments for the majority of provincially administered taxes.
- $1.8 billion by deferring the upcoming June 30 quarterly municipal remittance of education property tax to school boards by 90 days, which will provide municipalities the flexibility to, in turn, provide property tax deferrals to residents and businesses, while ensuring school boards continue to receive their funding.
- $1.9 billion for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) allowing employers to defer payments for up to six months.