The federal government has announced $9 billion dollars in aid for students who have been facing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) program, students who have lost work or are unable to find employment will be eligible for payments of $1,250 a month from May to August, and may receive up to $1,750 if they are caring for a dependent or have a disability. 

However, international students do not qualify for the program, as only Canadian citizens and permanent residents are covered. Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough also said today in a press conference that part-time students in “certain circumstances” would qualify, such as if they had a disability, though the details are still to be decided.

The CESB is available for students who are not eligible for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which was an aid package announced earlier this month. The CERB is only available for people who earned at least $5,000 in 2019 and who have stopped working for reasons due to COVID-19. The CERB can provide up to $2,000 a month.

Funding through the CESB will also be available to students who have jobs over the summer but make less than $1,000 a month. In addition, the benefit will be available to students who volunteer over the summer — they can be awarded anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 based on how much they work.

Students can receive more than one of these benefits at the same time if they qualify for them.

Changes were also announced to the Canada Student Grants program. For the coming school year, full-time students will be eligible for up to $6,000 and part-time students will be eligible for up to $3,600. For Indigenous students, the government is providing an additional $75.2 million in aid.

The federal government has also raised the Canada Student Loans Program weekly maximum from $210 to $350 and has pledged an additional $291 million to support graduate research scholarships, post-doctoral fellowships, and research grants.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a workers’ rights advocacy group, has criticized the CESB for potentially excluding up to one million students, including those without a Social Insurance Number or a work permit.

The Canadian Federation of Students welcomed the financial support but likewise criticized the CESB for excluding international students.

“International students contribute billions of dollars to Canada’s economy and should be included in these emergency relief measures,” reads the statement.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) also released a statement today applauding the CESB announcement, writing, “Because of consistent student activism, our voices have been heard loud and clear.” 

UTSU President Joshua Bowman was critical of the fact that the CESB was announced nearly a month after the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit was announced on March 25, leaving students in the dark for that time. He wrote in an email to The Varsity that the CESB is a “great first step,” but pointed out that the amounts provided still might not be enough for students to pay for rent, groceries, medications and more.

Many students rely on the summer months to earn income before resuming studies in the fall. However, due to physical distancing orders and the economic shutdown across the country, young people have experienced a sharp decline in job prospects. According to Statistics Canada, people between the ages of 15 and 24 have faced the most job loss, with employment dropping by 392,500.

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler wrote: “We have been advocating for this type of a program since the start of the pandemic. This is a welcome announcement that comes at a very stressful time for students.”

“We are also pleased to see the government implement changes to the student aid program that are consistent with what student groups and we have been calling for,” continued Gertler. “On our own campuses, we’ve seen this need and have provided more than $2.3 million in emergency bursaries to more than 2,000 students to help with unexpected expenses such as emergency travel home and some of the extra costs students face as they complete their term.”

The Varsity has reached out to the UTSU, and the Government of Canada for comment.

Editor’s Note (April 24, 3:07pm): This article has been updated to include comment from U of T.

Editor’s Note (April 30, 3:43pm): This article has been updated to include comment from Joshua Bowman.