CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — The Province announced several new measures aimed at providing relief to low-income and vulnerable Islanders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic during a media briefing on Tuesday evening.
Relief will be offered to tenants unable to pay their utility bills, while all evictions for individuals living in buildings owned by the P.E.I. Housing Corporation will be halted for six weeks.
“This is not the time to be evicting people because they can’t pay their bills,” Premier Dennis King said via teleconference during the briefing.
The six-week halt on evictions will only relate to tenants currently living in provincially-owned housing. But Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson suggested further measures could be coming from the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, which oversees tenancy matters.
"We have been in contact with the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission and have asked them to take this matter under consideration," Hudson said.
On Tuesday afternoon, a representative of IRAC told The Guardian that all hearings on tenancy matters will be halted until April 6th. This means all disputed evictions, that have been appealed before IRAC will not take place before then.
“With all scheduled hearings postponed until at least April 6, if a landlord has not yet applied for possession, the matter has not been scheduled, and will not be scheduled until at least April 6,” read an e-mailed statement from IRAC.
It remains unclear whether this will mean a moratorium will be in place for eviction orders that have not been challenged by a tenant before IRAC, in light of the COVID-19 situation.
King also said he spoke to Maritime Electric CEO John Gaudet on Tuesday.
"Following that conversation, senior management from Maritime Electric announced that they would not disconnect power in the next few weeks for any Islander who may be struggling to make ends meet in these unprecedented times," King said.
The Province announced a new $500,000 fund has been established for three large non-profit organizations, as well as other community programs. The United Way of Prince Edward Island will receive $250,000 from the fund, while the Salvation Army of Prince Edward Island and the P.E.I. Food Bank Association will each receive $100,000. A further $50,000 will be allocated for community programs and other non-profit organizations.
In addition, clarification was provided for the $25 Emergency Contingency Fund announced on Monday. On Monday, Matthew MacKay, Minister of Economic Growth, Tourism, said this fund would be available for workers, businesses and self-employed individuals
But on Tuesday, MacKay indicated the fund will prioritize businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said the 1-866-222-1751 phone line would be available mainly for businesses to share details of impacts on their business. But he also said workers who have been laid off could also access support from it.
"We're waiting to get a little info from the federal government on what supports they are going to be releasing. And we just didn't want to come out right away and interfere and double-up on the support side of it," MacKay said.
"The main thing right now is we want to make sure that Islanders are not going without money too long."
MacKay said he did not know if the contingency fund would be made available for non-citizens, such as international students or temporary foreign workers impacted by the pandemic.
Tuesday’s announcement in Ottawa from Justin Trudeau did not include details about supports for workers not eligible for Employment Insurance. The one-week waiting period for EI Sickness Benefits, which can cover up to 15 weeks, has been waived by the federal government.
MacKay also said a separate fund will be established to provide a $500 per week lump sum payment to self-employed Islanders through Innovation P.E.I.
In the midst of the ongoing public health emergency, Access P.E.I. service counters will be closed as of Tuesday, as will most provincial government administration buildings in Charlottetown.
Partial list of government locations closed to the public
- PEI Libraries
- All PEI schools, French School Board Offices & Public School Board offices
- PEI early years centres
- Access PEI locations
- Provincial Administration Building
- Aubin Arsenault Building
- Workers Compensation Board
- Innovation PEI and Finance PEI
- Labour and Industrial Relations
- Skills PEI offices
- Museum and Heritage Foundation sites