Over 30,000 people and 2,000 businesses have applied for provincial emergency relief as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic, Finance Minister Darlene Compton announced Friday.
In addition, Compton said almost 14,000 Islanders applied for federal Employment Insurance benefits between March 16 and April 13.
But both Compton and Matthew MacKay, Minister of Economic Growth, expressed confidence that economic damage in P.E.I. would be tempered by the Island’s strong economic position before the pandemic. P.E.I.’s last three operating budgets have had a surplus and the Province’s debt-to-GDP ratio has been dropping consistently in recent years, shrinking from 37 per cent in 2015 to just over 30 per cent in 2019.
Compton said she planned to introduce a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. She said this would be a deficit budget, because of the expenses involved in relief programs, as well as a certain drop in tax revenue.
"I am confident that we will have the financial endurance needed to manage a deficit,” Compton said.
Projections from the Department of Finance released two weeks ago predicted job losses incurred due to the pandemic to peak in May before subsiding from June-August after public health measures are relaxed.
"We're very optimistic. We're looking at the stages that we're going to have to ease out of this, get people back to work in a safe way,” Compton said.
"We are a seasonal economy in a number of ways and there are seasonal jobs that will be out there that have to be done in a safe way."
MacKay added that it appears that public health restrictions will be eased in P.E.I. quicker than other Provinces.
"We're hoping to get back to a bit of a local economy, which will be one of the very few provinces that is going to be in the situation to be able to do that," MacKay said.
MacKay also provided an update on the economic stimulus and relief programs that have been rolled out provincially since the start of the pandemic.
An emergency income relief fund for self-employed individuals has dispersed $2,275,000 to 2,325 individuals. The emergency relief worker assistance program, which provides a payment to workers who have had their hours reduced, has seen payments made to 1,500 workers, for a total cost of $538,000.
A program that distributes Sobeys gift cards to employees has seen 9,920 gift cards distributed. Another program that offers a one-time payment of $750 for individuals, including those eligible for federal EI benefits or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, has dispersed $5.4 million.
Deadlines for applications to most of these programs is April 30.
In addition,132 emergency working capital loans have been approved for a total of $6.5 million.