The changes were announced on Wednesday. Photo: Matt Gergyek/The Fulcrum
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Post-secondary students still pushing for inclusion in Canada Emergency Response Benefit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has temporarily expanded the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJP) to employ up to 70,000 more people, but some post-secondary students say that the measure doesn’t go far enough and are continuing to call on the federal government to better support them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CSJP provides wage subsidies to employers from not-for-profit organizations, the public sector, and small businesses to create job opportunities for people aged 15-30, according to a government website.

“In this economic climate, it’s hard for people of all ages to find work, but young people are especially vulnerable,” Trudeau said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“They’re new to the workforce, so they don’t have a lot of money set aside for this kind of situation. At the same time, they need work experience to secure their next job, and money to cover their living expenses and cover tuition for the rest of their year.”

Under the temporary changes to the program, the federal government will subsidize up to 100 per cent of the provincial or territorial minimum hourly wage for each employee, up from the previous limit of 50 per cent. 

Employment through the CSJP typically runs until the end of August, but that date will be extended until Feb. 28, 2021. Employers will also be able to hire workers on a part-time basis. The measures will cost the federal government $263 million.

While applications for this year’s CSJP closed back in February, Trudeau said Members of Parliament will reach out to businesses and organizations that are providing critical services but did not apply for the CSJP to look at whether students could be hired.

Alex Gold-Apel, a masters student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, says that the measure from the federal government ultimately does not go far enough.  

“It’s going to be really a small percentage of students who get jobs from the CSJP expansion,” said Gold-Apel, highlighting that there are currently over two million students in the country’s post-secondary education system.

Gold-Apel is one of the founding members of the Don’t Forget Students campaign, which is pushing the federal government to expand eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) so the COVID-19 pandemic relief fund better supports students and recent graduates. The group launched an online petition on Friday which has since gone viral, with over 24,000 signatures as of publication time.

Through the CERB, which opened on Monday to nearly one million applicants, the federal government will give Canadians who have stopped working due to the global COVID-19 pandemic $2,000 per month for up to 16 weeks.  

That means students and recent graduates who were looking toward internships and jobs over the summer, which may have been cancelled due to COVID-19, but were not already working are not eligible to apply. Under the current CERB requirements, applicants also must have made at least $5,000 in the past 12 months.

Gold-Apel said that while job creation is good, Don’t Forget Students will continue to call on the federal government to expand the CERB, which is “the simplest and easiest way to get assistance out the door.”  

“There seems to be the sort of emphasis that students and recent graduates should work to receive income assistance,” said Gold-Apel. “We shouldn’t be asking students to put themselves and their families at risk to receive the help that they need.” 

Gold-Apel said some students who want to work during the summer are unable to because they might be immunocompromised or live with people who are immunocompromised. He added that some students might not have the money saved up to be able to make ends meet until the first paycheque arrives.  

“Students can’t take on more debt, they can’t take on more loans, they want to be able to contribute to the economy and Canadian society … but now is the time for help and assistance,” said Gold-Apel. “

“Students incur a lot of costs throughout their education … and put themselves through many stressful years, and now they need a little help, they need the government to come through for them and provide them with the assistance that they need,” he added.

In a press release, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students Sofia Descalzi said that the government’s current COVID-19 support measures mean “many students will be left behind.” 

The “CERB must be expanded to include all students and recent graduates to ensure that everyone is able to pay rent and put food on the table during these very uncertain times,” said Descalzi.

Trudeau said at the Wednesday press conference that the expansion of the CSJP is “a step in the right direction to help young people find work during this difficult time.” 

“But I want to be clear, we will be doing more,” Trudeau said.