Whitehorse Daily Star

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NDP Leader Kate White

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Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai

Wage subsidy program to live on, government says

The Yukon government announced an extension of the wage subsidy program for low-income front-line workers Tuesday afternoon.

By Whitehorse Star on November 25, 2020

The Yukon government announced an extension of the wage subsidy program for low-income front-line workers Tuesday afternoon.

The surprise announcement came after an exchange in the legislature during question period between NDP Leader Kate White and Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai.

White pressed the minister on whether the government would move to extend the wage subsidy program, which was introduced earlier this year as a way to top-up the wages of front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was funded through federal programs, and offered the top-up of up to $4 an hour for a maximum of 16 weeks. It ended in early October, but not all of the money had been spent.

Pillai said it was intended the subsidy would cap wages for eligible workers at $20 an hour.

White said she was concerned about information she had received indicating that some workers hadn’t been able to access the funds because their employers hadn’t applied for the money.

She also noted “we are still in a pandemic,” and the money was still needed for front-line workers.

She demanded an immediate extension of the program, and said it should be offered to workers regardless of whether their employers applied.

Pillai didn’t mention during the question period exchange the extension of the program had already been agreed upon at the government level.

He said during a media scrum afterward that it had been in the works for some time, and hadn’t simply been pulled together following White’s questions.

Francois Picard, a spokesperson for the NDP, said “we have been telling him for months that it’s a problem that employees don’t have a way to access this if their employer doesn’t apply on their behalf. But he hasn’t made the change.

“We have directed every employee who has approached us to contact the department. The department has done all they could but some employers still have not applied.”

This morning, White called the announcement “great news.

“It’s a great first step,” she said. “But we still need to talk about the future.”

She reiterated she was still concerned about the program only being accessible through employers, and said that was a key change that needed to be made.

The program is designed to flow through employers, rather than having employees apply individually. Pillai said that was to ensure a more efficient delivery service of the money.

The extended program will continue with that model, but Pillai said the government was offering employers $100 in funding per employee to cover the administrative costs of participating in the program. That’s double the initial offering of $50 per employee.

Those administrative costs include additional paperwork and tax deductions that employers are required to make for participating workers.

Pillai said he hoped the new funding would encourage more employers to use the program.

He said the department was ready to field any questions from employers. He also said the department would welcome calls from employees inquiring about the program and how to encourage their employers to take part.

A media release was issued immediately following the announcement by Pillai. In it, the government stated “all services identified as critical or essential in the guidelines for the delivery of critical, essential and other services are eligible.

“The Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program is available to both full-time and part-time employees, the release stated.

“Employers must apply on behalf of their staff and may choose when the 16-week benefit is applied between Oct. 15, 2020 and Feb. 15, 2021.

“Essential workers who received the benefit during the initial program period are once again eligible for the program.”

Pillai said he himself was unclear as to whether employees who had already received the subsidy could apply again, giving them up to 32 weeks of eligibility, or whether the program would only be available to workers who hadn’t applied or collected the maximum of 16 weeks of eligibility.

That was clarified late in the day in a follow-up announcement indicating that workers could claim up to 32 weeks of the top-up.

Mike Pemberton, the past chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, also called the announcement “great news.”

“It helps out quite a bit,” he told the Star this morning.

Approximately 1,300 workers had received the top-up during the initial stages of the program, he said, representing more than 100 businesses.

Comments (8)

Up 10 Down 4

Yukoner61 on Nov 26, 2020 at 10:18 pm

Hey Wilf, you do realize that the (so called) Yukon Party voted alongside the NDP on this issue right? Since you seem to be leaving them out of your critique. In fact, the Yukon Party almost always votes the same way as the NDP since Currie Dixon became leader. Go read the transcript from the legislature on Wednesday if you don't believe me.

Up 10 Down 3

EJ on Nov 26, 2020 at 9:17 pm

@JC Yes exactly. Nothing is free. For example even when people go camping and pay next to nothing for a permit and get free firewood. Everyone has to pay to subsidize campers and their firewood through taxes. Same when it comes to dump fees and so many other things Yukoners take for granted. People just don't understand that low fees or no fees on anything means that someone else is paying part of the bill or all of the bill.

Up 18 Down 8

Wilf Carter on Nov 26, 2020 at 10:14 am

Cut taxes on low income workers is much more cost effective and the system is already in place to do so. No new system needed to delivery the program to help put more money in the pockets of low income workers.
Why is it that NDP and liberals don't seem to know how to help tax payers in time of need?
Then you have NDP and liberals just trying to find a way to get more out of peoples pockets when conservatives work to put money back into tax payers pockets.

Up 30 Down 7

JC on Nov 25, 2020 at 7:27 pm

I hope these socialist politicians are explaining to their children that they and their several descendant generations below them will have to pay all this money back from their future salaries in increased taxes for the rest of their lives. Try going on an annual vacation when the future governments tax their salaries at 80%. Remember if the the governments give you something free today, they will expect payment back tomorrow.

Up 35 Down 8

drum on Nov 25, 2020 at 5:28 pm

I am concerned that only First Nations (750 baskets) qualify for shortages this Xmas. What about the non First Nations people who need help!!!!!!!

Up 16 Down 6

Wilf Carter on Nov 25, 2020 at 4:33 pm

NDP just remove taxes and it would cost 30 to 40% less for admin costs putting that money back into the program, helping more people because the admin system is already in place. Why don't you check facts before just making statements that only help a small group of people. This only shows NDP are not ready to govern in Yukon and don't understand how to create cost effective programs for Yukoners.

Up 22 Down 6

Matthew on Nov 25, 2020 at 3:26 pm

All for one and none for all.. I haven't collected a penny, yet somehow we have spent enough to give EVERY person in Canada $10,000+.. I'm sure I won't be getting a tax credit either.. economics 101, the more you print the less it's worth! Besides the IMF will forgive our debt in exchange for your freedom. Sad thing is looks like 90% of Canadians are willing to do so.

Up 37 Down 4

Some kid on Nov 25, 2020 at 2:15 pm

I work part time at a local grocery store.

I never got the top up the first wave last winter, don't expect to get it this wave either. If I ask I think they will fire me. I'm a teenager and don't NEED to work, I do it for a little spending money, socialization and to help out my family with bills sometimes. Maybe it's too much of a risk if I get my grandparents or parents sick.

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