OTTAWA - Almost 119,000 families who are living on the street or on the verge of becoming homeless could find themselves with new or refurbished affordable housing units promised in the federal budget released Tuesday.
The document also proposed changes to employment insurance, to make it easier to qualify and to extend benefits in areas hard-hit by job losses.
The Liberals' first budget sets aside $2.3 billion over two years for affordable housing, including doubling spending on a federal affordable housing program and adding $111.8 million to help 61 cities tackle the ongoing challenge of homelessness.
A volunteer helps a homeless man pack up a tent at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Oct. 15, 2014. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/CP)
Included in that amount will be about $200 million over two years to repair and build affordable housing units for more than 5,000 low-income seniors and $739 million over the same time for housing for First Nations, Inuit and northern communities.
Many of the 570,000 units of social housing the government funds nationwide aren't energy or water efficient, or are in dire need of repair.
Anti-poverty advocates and housing providers had asked the government for much more — $3.2 billion to renovate old units and build 100,000 new units nationwide — to aid the estimated 200,000 people who experience homelessness annually and reverse years of declines in federal spending on affordable housing.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons on March 22, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
"All Canadians need and deserve housing that is safe, adequate and affordable,'' the budget document says.
"Without it, Canadians feel less secure and that makes it harder to accomplish every other goal — from raising healthy children to pursuing education, jobs and opportunity. When affordable housing is in short supply, Canada's whole economy suffers.''
The budget also sets aside $89.9 million over two years to create or renovate more than 3,000 shelter spaces for women escaping domestic violence that are either in short supply or non-existent in many communities.
The money is part of a larger push by the government to tackle a number of social issues, including growing student debt, joblessness in hard hit, resource-rich regions of the country and the cost of child care.
"All Canadians need and deserve housing that is safe, adequate and affordable."
The government has for months been pushed to extend EI benefits for workers in provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and Saskatchewan and cities like Sudbury, Saskatoon and Calgary, who are about to see their benefits run out.
The government says it will add five weeks to the regular benefits those workers receive, effective this July but retroactive to January 2015, costing federal coffers $405 million this year and $177 million next year. Long-tenured workers in the 12 regions identified in the budget could also see an extra 20 weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 70 weeks — again, starting this July but retroactive to January of last year.
The move, the government says in the budget, will help laid-off workers "while they search for work, possibly in an entirely different industry.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau smile as they prepare to deliver the federal budget on March 22, 2016. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)
The budget also halves the two-week waiting period for benefits starting next year, adds $19 million to speed up processing of benefit applications and $73 million over two years to hire more people at overwhelmed call centres to reduce the time someone has to stay on hold just to get an answer to their employment insurance questions.
Students will find more money through non-repayable grants, with $684 million banked over the next two years to increase federal support to almost 100,000 middle income students, about 247,000 low-income students and 16,000 part-time students.
The government has banked $500 million for child care next year as incentive to the provinces to join a proposed national child-care system.
The Liberal government delivered its maiden budget Tuesday, March 22. A deficit of $29.4 billion in 2016-17, nearly three times the $10 billion promised during the fall election campaign, and a projected deficit of $17.7 billion in 2019-20 rather than the balanced budget that was promised in October. (Source: The Canadian Press)
One of the earmarks of the budget is a commitment to spending on aboriginal issues. This includes: - $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves, including language and cultural programs, plus $969.4 million over five years for education infrastructure. - $1.2 billion over five years for social infrastructure for Aboriginal Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and northern communities. - $10.4 million over three years for new women's shelters in First Nations communities, and $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing for support services. - $40 million over two years for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will be changing the structure of Canada's child benefits, ending income splitting and other tax credits for families and parents. This means: - $10 billion more over two years for a new Canada child benefit, absorbing and replacing both the Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. Targeted to low and middle-income families, the government says the new benefit provides an average increase of nearly $2,300 in 2016-17. - An end to income splitting for couples with children, the children's fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The government will spend $2.5 billion over two years on a suite of changes, including reducing the required work experience for new entrants and re-entrants; halving the two-week waiting period; extending a pilot project to allow claimants to work while collecting benefits; simplifying job-search requirements; and extending the benefit eligibility window in specific regions with a higher unemployment rate. (Source: The Canadian Press)
- $5.6 billion more in benefits to veterans and their families over five years, including a disability award that increases to $360,000, retroactive to 2006, and an earnings loss benefit to injured vets of 90 per cent of pre-release salary. The government is also re-opening nine veterans' service offices across the country and adding a 10th. - Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget includes $3.4 billion over five years to increase the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit by up to $947 annually for single seniors, and restore the old age security eligibility age to 65 from 67. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals broke a major campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate. Instead, the rate will remain at the current 10.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of active business income. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $1.53 billion over five years to increase Canada student grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students, to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students. $2 billion over three years is also earmarked for a new strategic investment fund for infrastructure improvements at colleges and universities, in partnership with provinces and territories.
The Liberals' green infrastructure plan includes: - $2.2 billion over five years in water and wastewater treatment and waste management - $2 billion over two years for a low-carbon economy fund - Over $1 billion over four years to support future clean technology investments - $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $500,000 to help understand the role of foreign homebuyers in the country's housing market. The government says comprehensive and reliable data on the number of homes sold to foreign buyers does not exist right now. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion. The budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
$142.3 million over five years will be spent to add new national parks and improve access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Source: The Canadian Press
The Grits will provide up to $178 million over two years for the provinces for urgent affordable housing needs. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget earmarks $38.5 million over two years to strengthen and modernize Canada's food safety system. (Source: The Canadian Press)