Federal government announces $9 billion in COVID-19 student financial aid

Students eligible for $1,250 grant per month from May to August 

CESB addresses student-specific issues initially excluded from the CERB.  
Journal File Photo

Designed with students in mind, the new Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) is addressing student financial concerns caused by COVID-19. 

On April 22, the federal government announced approximately $9 billion in financial aid to help students facing financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19. The CESB program is designed to support post-secondary students and recent graduates who don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). 

Many students had initially been overlooked by the CERB, which was introduced on March 25. The CERB provides up to $2,000 per month exclusively to individuals who had earned a minimum of $5,000 in 2019 and lost employment due to COVID-19. 

The CESB will provide $1,250 per month for eligible students from May to August, and $1,750 for students responsible for taking care of another individual or those who have a permanent disability. Students who are still working over the summer but make less than $1,000 per month are also eligible to receive funding.

As well, students who take on a volunteer position can earn between $1,000 and $5,000 in compensation from the Canada Student Service Grant, depending on how many hours they work in the summer period. 

Additionally, Indigenous post-secondary students will receive more than $75 million in additional financial support.

If they meet the necessary qualifications for more than one of these benefits, it’s possible for students to receive a combination of benefits.

The government further proposed changes to the Canada Student Loan Program’s eligibility requirements in 2020-21 to allow more students to qualify for support in the form of grants and loans. They are doubling student grants for eligible students, offering up to $6,000 for full-time students and up to $3,600 for part-time students. The maximum weekly amount for loans provided through the program has also been raised from $210 to $350 for the next academic year.

The AMS called the CESB a “very real example” of why student-led advocacy is important and how it can actually make a difference for students across Canada. 

“Several weeks ago, student leaders discovered that the CERB would not be accessible to most students,” William Greene, AMS vice-president (University Affairs), wrote in a statement to The Journal. “We realized this would create barriers for our peers, from the ability to continue accessing their post-secondary education for incoming and current students, to accessing the workforce for recent graduates.”

Earlier this month, the AMS joined student leaders across the country to circulate a survey targeted at understanding the financial impact of COVID-19 for students, as well as engaging in discussions with the provincial and federal governments about the survey’s results.

The Society also signed an open letter from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and Don’t Forget Students on April 15 that requested all students be made eligible for the CERB. 

“We felt it was important to sign on as we had shared a goal in achieving much needed support for students,” Greene said.

Through discussions and survey feedback, the Society learned that, in “most” cases, students didn’t make over $5,000 in 2019, largely because of their course load. The CERB also excluded those who had a summer job offer rescinded because of the pandemic. 

Summer jobs are often the main source of financial support for students to fund the necessary costs for continuing their education, including tuition, rent, and other living expenses.

“Without the new CESB, we may have seen a significant drop in student retention due to financial inaccessibility,” Greene said.

Applications for the CESB will open on May 1 through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

While the AMS welcomed the new financial package, Greene also stressed the need for continued advocacy as the pandemic develops.

“What is important is that student-specific issues not addressed in the CERB are now being mitigated through a very targeted funding package that will significantly help students,” Greene wrote. “Nonetheless, it’s also important, as student leaders, to continue to listen to our peers’ concerns to understand [and address] outstanding financial concerns.”

Although normal operations have been suspended, Green said the incoming and outgoing AMS teams are working closely to represent students to the University’s administration and various partner organizations, including Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities (UCRU) and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). 

Other student leaders have also expressed their opinion on the CESB following the government’s announcement.

In a Facebook Live discussion on April 22 with Mark Gerretsen, MP for Kingston and the Islands, incoming Rector Sam Hiemstra said the new financial aid package is “very exciting.” 

“Prime Minister Trudeau kept saying it’s coming, and I was getting a little skeptical about what it was going to look like,” Hiemstra said in the discussion. “From the description, it’s quite comprehensive; it has a lot of available funding and tacks onto some [financial aid] which already existed. I think that’s a really good step.”

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