The federal government has begun implementing Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan to provide Canadians with financial supports during the pandemic. The CPA welcomes the announcement made this week that workers will be able to earn up to $1,000 per month and still qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) – something we have been calling on the government to allow for several weeks. While this will help physiotherapists, some of you who are now able to earn a modest income from virtual care and some emergency/urgent care, it does not go far enough to provide support clinics and small businesses need. There are still significant gaps in the programs that stand to leave some physiotherapists and other health professionals out of these important financial stabilization measures. While the CPA continues to work with the government on several fronts to ensure the needs of physiotherapists are considered, we are asking for your help in getting the message across to Members of Parliament.

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE: Please send the letter below to your Member of Parliament and copy the Minister of Finance and Minister of Small Business in your email. This will help make sure our concerns about these programs reach local representatives and those ultimately responsible for implementing any adjustments.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
What is it? $2,000 per month income support for those who are unable to work due to COVID-19.
What’s the problem? Initially, individuals only qualified for the benefit if they were not earning any income. On April 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that workers can earn up to $1,000 per month and still be eligible for the CERB. The CPA was advocating for this change and appreciates the changes that the government made to ensure physiotherapists who are able to provide virtual care through tele-rehabilitation or see emergency/urgent patients qualify for the benefit.

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)
What is it? A subsidy to help businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic keep and rehire their employees by providing a subsidy of up to 75% of wages, paid to employees.
What’s the problem? Contractors and sub-contractors are not considered to be eligible employees, so businesses would not be provided with the subsidy to cover wages of that category of worker. The subsidy also does not consider payments through dividends as earned income, which means a clinic owner who uses that model cannot get compensation for their income lost.

Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)
What is it? An interest-free loan of up to $40,000 to small business and not-for-profits to help cover operating costs during this time. This product is intended to help businesses with fixed costs, such as rent. To qualify, organizations have to demonstrate they paid between $20,000 and $1.5 million in total payroll in 2019.
What’s the problem? The payroll threshold is too high for many sole-proprietors and clinic owners who pay themselves through dividends. Contractors and sub-contractors, again, are not considered to be on payroll, so do not count towards the eligibility.

Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA)
What is it? This program is still being developed in partnership between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. It stands to offer loans and/or forgivable loans to commercial property owners who will, in turn, lower or forgo the rent of small businesses for the months of April (retroactive), May, and June.
What’s the problem? There are not many details available about this program yet, but one issue is that rent relief is coming in the form of a loan, rather than as a grant or non-repayable benefit. It’s also not yet clear whether and how small businesses can seek this benefit if their landlord/commercial property owner is not willing to take on additional debt to offer rent reduction options.

Look-up my MP by postal code: Enter your postal code here to find your Member of Parliament’s contact information.

Send the letter below to their email address and copy Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Bill.Morneau@canada.ca) and Small Business Minister Mary Ng (Mary.Ng@international.gc.ca) on the email. Feel free to personalize the message or use it as written.

[Date]

RE: Call to Action: support for physiotherapists needed now in COVID-19 Response Plan

Dear MP:

I’m writing to share my concerns about the eligibility criteria for federal financial supports under Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. As a physiotherapist, I’m concerned about the impact that existing gaps in support stand to have on access to health care services and the overall health status of Canadians in my community. I appreciate the recent changes to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to allow for some income to be earned and still qualify for the benefit, and to the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to adjust the income thresholds for qualification. While these changes will help physiotherapists who are able to continue caring for some patients during the COVID-19 outbreak and enable more clinics and businesses to qualify for loans, there are some remaining gaps in the government’s financial support packages that stand to exclude many physiotherapists. I ask for your support to adjust the criteria of these programs, and that you ensure that the newly announced commercial rent relief program is flexible and able to provide direct relief to small business.

Support for Small Business

In the case of both the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the CEBA, there are business model issues that stand to limit the applicability of the programs to many physiotherapists and other health care providers. In many community settings, physiotherapists and other health professionals are classed as contractors or sub-contractors rather than regular employees. This means that they won’t meet the definition of employees as required under the CEWS to attain the wage subsidy. As well, some physiotherapy clinic owners pay themselves through dividends rather than taking a salary; meaning, they wouldn’t necessarily meet payroll obligations to qualify for the CEWS or the CEBA. In both of these examples, the CEWS and the CEBA leave many physiotherapists out of financial supports due to definitions of earned income.

Further, for business owners, commercial rent is a fixed cost being incurred even though operations have been shut down to decrease the transmission of COVID-19. Recognizing the government has announced that it is developing a loan-based program to provide commercial rent relief, access to credit may provide solutions to some businesses, but for many clinic owners it only pushes the problem of fixed costs down the road  With some degree of physical distancing expected to be the new reality after clinics are permitted to reopen, the number of patients that can come in the door may be limited, in turn limiting potential revenues. In developing this program, I encourage you to support access to grants or a non-repayable program with a structure that will allow small businesses to access rent relief measures directly and as quickly as possible.

An Opportunity to Help Us Help Canadians

Physiotherapy clinics and individual physiotherapists need access to financial supports being provided by government to ensure they remain financially viable so they can continue to serve our communities as they recover from the pandemic. We have the opportunity to introduce commercial rent relief and to adjust the CEWS and CEBA now to enable physiotherapists to both continue to provide care for their patients and to access the emergency income needed to get through the immediate financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physiotherapists are an integral part of the health care system, provide an essential service, and they play a key role in protecting, maintaining, and improving the health and wellbeing of patients. Economic support that sustains physiotherapists now will help Canadians as they recover and return following the pandemic situation. I encourage you to recognize the critical role physiotherapists play during these difficult times by adjusting the criteria of these programs to ensure that physiotherapists and physiotherapy and health clinics providing valuable care to Canadians are not excluded.

Sincerely,

[Name]

[Address (include postal code)]