Students wondering how to pay for essentials as summer work disappears

Students wondering how to pay for essentials as summer work disappears

Like countless students across the country, Brandon Amyot’s summer work plans have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The incoming third-year political science student at Lakehead University in Orillia, Ont., who typically spends summers working in the non-profit sector, is facing a summer of unemployment and wondering where the money for rent and groceries will come from as the economy slowly emerges from a government mandated lockdown.

Amyot, who prefers to use gender-neutral pronouns, has exhausted most of the resources accessible to them and anticipates leaning on local food pantries to get by.

“Hopefully aid comes soon,” Amyot says. “If it starts to get into late May, you know, I’ll have to look at my options. But right now it’s kind of a week-by-week thing.”

The economic fallout from the coronavirus has cut off scores of young Canadians from summer jobs and internships, which usually help them bridge gaps between tuition payments. And up until April 22, when Ottawa introduced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), students like Amyot were left uncovered by existing aid programs — namely the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which requires applicants to have made at least $5,000 in 2019.

CESB offers students who aren’t eligible for CERB $1,250 per month (or $1,750 per month for those with dependents or disabilities) between May and August. It’s part of a nine-billion dollar aid package for post-secondary students and recent graduates that also includes wage subsidies for employers with Canada Summer Jobs, enhanced and extended research grants, and increased weekly student loan payments.

The sum of a summer’s CESB cheques comes out to be more than what Amyot would typically make at a non-profit job earning minimum wage, though applications for CESB won’t open until May 15. Critics say the funding is coming too late, as nearly two months of lockdown without aid has left students scrambling to make ends meet.

“I have applied for some work, mostly essential work in grocery stores and things like that,” says Amyot. “I haven’t heard back; the few that I did hear back from had filled the positions at the time … And I am at the point where I’m going to run out of groceries in a few days.”

Amyot feels lucky to qualify for CESB at all, as large sectors of students are not eligible for the program, including international students. Claudia Rupnik, incoming fourth-year student at Queen’s University and news editor of the Queen’s Journal, says international students at the school are “feeling very much like they have fallen through the cracks.” Coronavirus-related travel restrictions have prevented many from returning home for the summer, so a large portion of students are stuck in Canada without money to live on.

Rupnik also notes that while the CESB offers enough to cover basic needs, it’s far lower than what most students say they’d earn through a paid internship. A number of her peers, including those planning to apply for CESB, are now left re-evaluating how they’ll pay for school come fall.

In the meantime, Queen’s University has released two-million dollars in bursary funding for students having trouble paying their immediate bills, with a fraction dedicated specifically to international graduate students.

Other schools and students’ societies across the country are offering similar emergency scholarships for those slipping through the cracks of federal aid, including Brock University, the University of Toronto, the University of Victoria, and MacEwan University, among others. Students who aren’t eligible for federal funding should consult their schools’ bursary schemes.

Meanwhile, the federal government has injected enough funding into the Canada Summer Jobs program to create up to 70,000 jobs for youth in retail, communications, transport, agriculture, and other industries. Those interested should consult the federal Job Bank to start their search.

Students who are still coming out dry should speak up, says Adam Brown, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Brown says he and his team are currently advocating for students across the country at the federal level — and from what he’s seen, Ottawa is listening.

“If there are other students who are falling through the cracks and might be missed, the more that they’re able to speak out or contact their own student associations or contact (CASA), [the better],” Brown says. “We can continue to communicate those gaps to the federal government. That’s definitely what helps get that stuff going.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

Audrey Carleton, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the incorrect CERB qualifying period in the 5th graf

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