A provincial relief fund originally intended to support those who fell through the cracks of other government relief funds will be rebooted to provide more support to international students and non-profit organizations.
In a statement before the legislature on Thursday, Steven Myers, Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, announced the special situations fund would be reopened, offering more than $500,000 in financial support.
The program had been closed as of early June after dispersing financial support to 444 individuals and organizations.
Myers explained the fund was created early in the pandemic amid a flurry of financial relief programs from both the federal and provincial governments.
“We quickly realized that, as a government, we can’t – and don’t – know every situation Islanders are facing,” Myers told members of the legislature Thursday.
“The special situations fund was then created as a way to help us fill any gaps.”
The fund was offered to individuals who were not eligible for other federal income relief support, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The special situations fund provided a one-time payment of up to $1,000 for individuals who did not qualify for the CERB or other provincial supports.
Myers said much of the funding has so far supported people who needed more than one job to make ends meet. These individuals, Myers said, were ineligible for the CERB program because they continued to work, even after losing one job.
Many of the 1,500 international students on P.E.I. experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some had relied on support from overseas but found this support cut off as their families also faced job losses.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of active international student permit holders in P.E.I.: 2,015
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In an interview, Myers said he has heard stories from Holland College administrators of students living in residence who cannot return to their home country but who have few job prospects in P.E.I. over the coming tourism season.
"It would be a very negative by-product of COVID if we didn't do our due diligence to take care of people," Myers said.
About $1 million was originally allocated to the special situation fund in early April. Of this, $427,000 has been dispersed to date, and the rest will be dispersed in this second round of funding.
The Guardian heard reports in early May that several international students had applied for the special situations fund in April but had been told they were not eligible. Others found they were often left out of other provincial or federal relief programs.
Some community groups have begun establishing online GoFundMe campaigns for international students unable to afford groceries or facing sudden tuition arrears. A $77,000 fund established by UPEI for students facing financial hardship was quickly depleted.
Myers said the initial special situation fund did not exclude international students, but some were referred to other funding options administered through UPEI or Holland College.
However, Opposition Green MLA Hannah Bell said she heard from international students who were told they were specifically ineligible for the first round of the special situation fund.
In late May, Bell raised the issue in the legislature.
"I had asked the minister then, specifically, about the special situations fund and why (it) was closed," Bell said.
"The gaps haven't gone away."
Bell also said she has been pushing since late May for more financial assistance for non-profit organizations in P.E.I., whose fundraising has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 economic downturn.
On Thursday, Myers thanked Bell for her advocacy on the matter.
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