Coronavirus: Ontario introduces $17B package for health sector, people, businesses

Marco Green
March 26, 2020

Ontario will spend up to $17 billion to provide relief to citizens and businesses hit hard by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Ontario government will more than double the size of its current deficit to $20.5-billion in 2020-21, as it spends billions on health care, tax deferrals and payments for people affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Ontario is doling out more funding to help the province deal with COVID-19.

The Ontario budget update includes $7 billion in added resources for the province's beleaguered health-care system and support for people and jobs, and an additional $10 billion to help support businesses and individuals struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips had been expected to release a full budget Wednesday, but made a decision to instead release an economic and fiscal update in light of the rapidly changing financial picture.

Measures also include a one-time payment for parents of $200 per child 12 years old and under, doubling payments for low-income seniors and suspending student loan payments for six months.

"As Finance Minister, my number one priority right now is ensuring that our front-line health care professionals have the resources they need to fight the COVID-19 outbreak", said Minister Phillips.

A total of $3.3 billion in additional health care money was made available through the plan, which was released late Wednesday by the province.

The spending boost includes a $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund, almost $1 billion more for hospitals, and more personal protective equipment for front-line workers. But I will never forget...hearing cheers from nearby porches and balconies along the street for the front-line health-care workers at Ajax-Pickering hospital.

Ontario says it will provide $935 million to the hospital sector, the lion's share to address capacity to care for patients.

Public health, at the frontline of efforts to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19, will receive an additional $160 million in part to pay for laboratory and home testing but also to support the publicly-funded vaccines program. "People need help. People need help now".

"(Wednesday's) package includes $75 million for (personal protection equipment).

Providing $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.

The budget predicts COVID-19 will bring Ontario's GDP growth to a standstill in 2020 - before rebounding later in the year and into 2021.

"We are encouraged by (Wednesday's) announcement to defer payments of the Employer Health Tax (EHT), Workplace Safety and Insurance Board premiums and Business Education Taxes, in addition to other provincial taxes ..."

People with student loans will get a six-month break on making Ontario Student Assistance Program loan repayments, and not accrue extra interest. "And small businesses can't use a tax credit if they have no cash coming in".

Meanwhile, private-sector firms with annual remuneration of less than $5 million will see an exemption to an employer health tax double this year to $1 million of payroll, cutting approximately $355 million in tax.

Businesses will be given five months of interest and penalty relief to file and make payments to most provincial taxes.

Ontario said the measures are a "timely and robust response package" that builds on the $82-billion that the federal government has announced so far, with the province pledging to take "further actions as required".

If the reserve, the largest in the province's history, is not used then the deficit drops to $18 billion this upcoming fiscal year.

"It demands an extraordinary response from all levels of government and civil society because we're all in this together", Phillips said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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