Students petition federal government for inclusion in COVID-19 emergency benefit

With the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program set to start accepting applications on April 6, petitions asking for student inclusion in the emergency response plan are beginning to circle online.

At UBC, the Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice Undergraduate Association (GRSJUA) is circulating a petition that calls on the federal government to include students in the CERB.

The CERB was created to support Canadians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic and will provide each individual $500 per week for four months.

People out of work due to COVID-19 and those who made at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to their application are eligible to apply.

But the criteria means many students are not eligible for the new benefit. According to the CERB website, “if you are a student who had a job last year and were planning on working this summer you do not qualify for the benefit.”

Kirsten Tarasoff, the GRSJUA member who started the petition, said students will suffer as a result of these restrictions.

She noted that many students rely on summer employment to support themselves during the school year. Teaching assistants like Tarasoff and other student contract workers whose contracts expire in April or May are also ineligible for the benefit.

“It just seemed really strange to me that they purposefully excluded students — really strange and really cruel in a lot of ways,” she said.

“It’s something that’s personally affected me as well as a lot of other people that I know that really rely on summer employment to get them through the year.”

Current AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi said the society is working behind the scenes to address funding shortfalls for students.

“We recognize that this is a very difficult time for students. COVID has created a lot of unexpected challenges and we have concerns about the gaps in support for students at this time, especially the ones that are being called on by these petitions across the country,” she said.

“We do worry that students may fall through the cracks of the supports that are in place,” she added.

Ilnitchi added that the AMS is working with student unions across the country to lobby the federal government for better support for students.

On April 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that government support for students is in the works.

“This is an issue that we are very, very aware of,” he said, adding that an announcement will come in the following days.

Meanwhile, BC students in need are provided some relief in the form of a $3.5 million emergency support fund announced by the province on April 2. UBC students can contact or their Enrolment Services Advisor (ESA) for more information.

Tarasoff said she reached out to her ESA and was offered assistance in moving back home.

“I have a lease. I pay rent. I’m a fully functioning adult. There’s this expectation that students are just able to rely on their parents … it’s quite a bit more complex than that,” she said.