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Concerns about critical worker COVID-19 cash eligibility

Last Updated Feb 18, 2021 at 8:38 am MST

Summary

The UCP unveiled a plan last week to provide one-time payments of $1,200 to eligible essential workers.

The majority of the money comes from a federal wage top-up program introduced last spring.

Political scientists and the Opposition NDP believe hundreds of critical workers are being left out.

CALGARY (CityNews) – Applications are now open for Alberta’s critical worker benefit program but questions about who is eligible have many worried they may be left out in the cold.

“If it isn’t clear how people can access the program,” said Political Scientist Lori Williams with Mount Royal University. “If it’s beyond their control whether they have access to these various programs then people are going to be upset and that frustration is going to be targeted at the deliverer which is the provincial government.

RELATED: Alberta announces plan to provide $500M to support frontline workers

Eligible public health care workers will automatically receive the one-time payment of $1,200 but many in the private sector who said they desperately need the support worry they won’t qualify.

“So many of our essential front-line workers are not listed, (they) do not qualify,” said NDP Labour and Immigration Critic, Christina Gray.

According to the government website, private sector workers will only be eligible if they earn $25 per hour or less, have worked at least 300 hours between the period of Oct. 12, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, and are living and working in Alberta.

“300 hours is the steepest hour requirement in the country,” added Gray. “The 300 hours is an unfair barrier for a number of different workers including workers whose hours were cut because of the pandemic.”

The issues and concerns coming from unions, public employees and private businesses and their employees are some they believe could have been addressed before the program was announced.

“If they’d be in a position where they’d been consulting with the people that were receiving these moneys then I think they might have been able to avoid some of the questions and certainly some of the criticism that’s coming at them now,” said Williams.

In a statement, the province said, “The program focuses primarily on health care and lower-income workers who have served in critical roles throughout the pandemic. The 300-hour requirement serves to include those workers who had worked at least 20 hours per week throughout the period used to determine eligibility.”

Employers have until Mar. 19 to apply on behalf of eligible employees.