Alberta announces $50M for those in self-isolation, deferral of utility payments
EDMONTON -- The Alberta government is promising to help citizens through the economic repercussions of COVID-19 with cash for those in self-isolation, deferral of electricity and natural gas charges and a six-month interest-free moratorium on student loan payments.
"To be blunt, the challenge that we face as Albertans' elected representatives is that much of our economy is moving into hibernation right now and so there's very limited policy levers to stimulate an immediate increase in demand, when in fact there is enormous momentum in the opposite direction," Premier Jason Kenney said in the legislature on Wednesday.
"And so Alberta's government in the immediate term will focus on the immediate imperative of doing everything we can to keep cash in people's bank accounts, to maintain the ability of households to pay their bills, to defer their bills wherever possible, and the ability of businesses to maintain at least basic operations."
'THERE IS RELIEF': KENNEY
Albertans will be able to apply online for and receive $572 from the emergency isolation support package starting next week, Kenney said, which is meant to act as a backstop until federal payments come in April. Eligibility will be based on the Government of Alberta's criteria for self isolation, and include those who are the sole caregiver of a dependent who is in self-isolation.
In addition to a deferral of utility charges for residential, farm and small commerical customers, Alberta says it has asked municipalities to offer similar protection for water charges.
ATB Financial customers will be able to apply for deferrals on their loans, lines of credit, and mortgages for six months. Kenney said "further solutions" were being discussed for other and agriculture businesses.
Credit union members were advised to talk to their institutions about options that would be available to them.
And, Kenney said, to give Alberta the greatest chance of mitigating the economic effects of the pandemic, the province will be deferring corporate income tax balances and instalment payments between March 19 and Aug. 31.
"The bottom line for Albertans who are feeling anxious right now is that they need to know there is relief."
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley was pleased with some of the government's announcements. But she wants more protections for renters, who she says are more vulnerable than people who own their homes.
"We are disappointed that we've not yet seen movement to pass a law banning evictions," Notley said. "We've seen both the federal and provincial governments encourage and in fact ensure actions are taken to protect homeowners through the process of mortgage deferral. But the same actions have not been taken for home renters."
Notley also called for the $573 payment for anyone self-isolating to be made weekly, instead of just once.
MORE TO COME, KENNEY SAYS
Kenney called the moves only the beginning of his government's response, and asked citizens to keep in mind long-term virus projections.
The Alberta premier said he's been told not to expect a decline in the virus spread for four or five weeks, throughout which protective measures will remain in place.
"This is going to take some time, and I think Albertans need to start to wrap their heads around that."
He was scheduled to meet Wednesday night with a newly created economic recovery council about strategizing for the future.
More announcements would be made Thursday and Friday, Kenney promised, including details in the future on the "likely most robust counter-cyclical stimulus package in the fiscal history of this province."
Earlier Wednesday, Canada announced it'd be closing its border with the U.S. for non-essential travel and providing about $82 billion in direct aid and stimulus in response to the outbreak.