BC government announces student loan payment suspension in COVID-19 Action Plan

The BC government announced on March 23 its $5 billion dollar COVID-19 Action Plan meant to provide immediate support for people and businesses affected by the global pandemic.

New economic measures include investments in healthcare and housing, a new BC Emergency Benefit to support workers and a promise to support renters’ rights.

“In extraordinary times, extraordinary measures are required,” said Premier John Horgan at a press conference.

One of the biggest changes for students is the decision to enact a moratorium on the repayment of BC student loans, which are already interest-free, until September 30. The AMS applauded the decision to suspend student loan payments in a tweet.

The government will also distribute $2.8 billion among individuals and services as well as $2.2 billion among businesses. This includes $1.7 billion for critical services like the healthcare sector, in addition to funding for individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic including those with disabilities.

“We have to focus on making sure that the most vulnerable in our community are protected,” said Horgan.

Minister of Finance Carole James announced the new BC Emergency Benefit which will provide a tax-free payment of $1,000 dollars to workers who are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) as well as the federal Emergency Care Benefit and Emergency Support Benefit.

The benefit will also support people who do not qualify for EI, including laid-off workers, people who are sick or quarantined, as well as those taking care of a sick family member or parents caring for their children.

There will also be an increase to the BC Climate Action Tax Credit in July 2020, which will benefit up to 86 per cent of British Columbians who will see up to $218 dollars per adult and $64 dollars per child.

Other measures to support individuals include $50 million dollars to the United Way to support seniors with everyday tasks, payment deferrals of up to 90 days for BC Hydro and ICBC and a delay on the increase of the carbon tax, which is now deferred to September 30.

There are efforts to support businesses, including tax and payment deadline deferrals. The province is working to build a more robust economic stimulus plan to support hard-hit industries such as tourism.

Horgan also promised support for renters but did not specify which actions would be taken to help those struggling to keep up with their payments.

“No one will lose their apartment because of COVID-19,” said Horgan.

While the province has halted evictions for BC Housing funded buildings, currently there is no onus on landlords to do the same.

“I’m hopeful that other landlords will show the same respect for their tenants in these extraordinary times,” said James.

Horgan said a more specific action plan to support renters will be announced on Wednesday.

Horgan and James noted the unprecedented nature of the plan and said that it will likely change over time.

“This plan is a first step — but a critical step,” said Horgan.

“I want to emphasize that this plan is a starting point. It’s going to have to evolve as the situation evolves. And we are going to do everything we need to to keep British Columbians safe, healthy and supported, and to keep our economy strong,” said James.