Senate committee recommends improvements to COVID-19 emergency programs | CBC News

Senate committee recommends improvements to COVID-19 emergency programs | CBC News

The Senate finance committee says significant gaps remain in the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic despite efforts to adjust and improve emergency support programs rolled out over the previous several months.

Sen. Percy Mockler, chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, speaks during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. The committee released an interim report Tuesday examining the Liberal government’s emergency support programs. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Senate finance committee says significant gaps remain in the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic despite efforts to adjust and improve emergency support programs rolled out over the previous several months.

The upper chamber released an interim report Tuesday recommending the Liberal government make further improvements to existing programs and better plan for what happens when COVID-19 benefits run out.

“The government’s response has likely prevented financial devastation for millions of Canadians and avoided what could have been a much worse economic crash,” the report reads. 

“[However], the committee is concerned that the government has not provided sufficient clarity to Canadians who will continue to be unemployed or are unable to find full-time work and to businesses that are looking to reopen.”

The report says the federal government should spell out how it will continue to support Canadians without jobs or sufficient working hours once the bedrock COVID-19 benefit for individuals runs out.

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), which pays out $2,000 a month to people who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced because of COVID-19, is currently scheduled to end in September. 

Over 8.25 million people have applied for the benefit and $54.7 billion has been paid out in direct payments as of July 5.

The Senate report recommends the government consider reducing the amount paid to CERB recipients on a declining scale based on income rather than abruptly turning off the taps, which is currently planned for September 30.

Senators also say the government should give “full, fair and priority consideration” to a permanent basic income guarantee to help people meet their basic needs in the future.

Also known as a guaranteed livable income, the CERB-like benefit would replace a raft of overlapping social support programs where many fall through the cracks, the report said.

The Senators also decried the “lack of accountability and transparency” regarding government spending and said Parliament should return to its normal procedures.

Parliamentarians have been meeting for a special COVID-19 committee four times a week in the Commons, with a small number of MPs in the chamber and the others participating virtually.

“It is time to return to traditional procedures for approval by Parliament of government spending in order to provide appropriate oversight of government expenditures,” the report recommends.

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