COVID-19 Policy Updates

New: Read ONN’s call for a $680-million stabilization fund for Ontario’s nonprofit sector


Federal COVID-19 Policy Updates

COVID-19 Resources for Nonprofits

Advocacy from the Nonprofit Sector

Sector Survey on Effects of COVID-19

Contents:

Overview

Ontario State of Emergency: What kind of organizations can stay open?

Reopening the province: What your nonprofit needs to know

COVID-19 Ontario government relief

Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020


Overview

Since the Emergency Declaration on March 16 (currently in place until June 2), the province has made a considerable number of announcements on their policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario. With the provincial budget postponed, the government of Ontario released its Economic Update and COVID-19 Action Plan of $17 billion in funding to respond to the pandemic. 

The Action Plan was modest in light of the COVID health and the economic crisis that Ontario is facing. Following the economic update, the government continues to announce and share daily updates or policy changes. Like most other provinces, the Ontario government is relying on the federal government to provide the majority of economic support needed during this crisis. Moreover, it is still too early to know whether or how the financial support provided by the province will be sufficient to help sustain the nonprofit sector. 

See our analysis on the COVID-19 Action Plan and Economic Update

ONN is advocating for and continues to work with the province to ensure nonprofits are supported in following ways:  

  • A stabilization fund for the nonprofit sector (see our letter to the Premier and proposal)
  • Revisions to employment standards policies regarding paid sick days for all employees
  • Flexibility in provincial funding agreements with nonprofits, e.g., moving funds between budget lines, postponing reporting deadlines, and carry-forward provisions at year-end
  • Access to emergency child care for workers in settings that have been identified as “essential,” including health care and social services
  • Access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers in community settings, such as neighbourhood groups who do isolation visits, along with home care, long-term care, and others
  • Establishment a nonprofit advisory table to inform the Cabinet Committee on the economic recovery. 

Ontario State of Emergency: What kinds of organizations can remain open?

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Ontario government has announced that all but “essential” workplaces must close for two weeks starting March 24. The time frame may be extended.

Organizations that can operate with remote workers may continue to do so.

We have highlighted the types of nonprofit organizations that can remain open, as well as services nonprofits may use in their operations:

  • Professional and social services that support the justice and legal system
  • Animal shelters and animal welfare agencies
  • Nonprofits that provide critical personal support services in home and also provide residential services for individuals with physical disabilities
  • Child care services for essential workers, and home child care services of less than six children
  • Credit unions, banking, and services that provide cheque cashing, payroll services (including “the payroll division of any employer”), insurance, employee benefits, and pension plans
  • Food banks and other food supply and services (restaurant take-away or delivery only)
  • Health care, home care, long-term care, mental health & addictions services
  • Hotels and shared rental units
  • News media
  • Organizations “that support the provision of . . . community services”
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers and laundry services
  • Property management, IT services, moving services
  • Services that can operate by phone, internet, or mail delivery
  • Temp agencies
  • Transit, taxis, and bike/car repair shops
  • Women’s shelters, homeless shelters, community housing, supportive housing, developmental services, children’s aid societies, group homes

See the full list of essential services.

Reopening the province: What your nonprofit needs to know

On April 27, the government of Ontario shared it’s framework and guiding principles to reopen the province. The government intends to approach the reopening of the province in three stages depending on the advice and guidance of the Chief Medical Officer and health officials on when to ease public health and safety measures, this includes a two-for-week decline in new COVID-19 cases and health system capacity.

There were no clear deadlines or benchmarks provided, but the government has indicated that each stage is expected to last for two-to-four weeks, after which the government will determine what next steps need to be taken.

There were no insights on how the nonprofit sector will be involved, except for those that are in sectors that have been deemed essential services. The document does not sufficiently account for the nuances that exist across the sector and how the reopening of the province will impact nonprofits, their workers and the communities they support. ONN is continuing to advocate for the establishment of a nonprofit advisory table to better inform both the reopening phase and steps towards recovery.

ONN will be monitoring and advocating to ensure that the nonprofit sector is included in this process.

COVID-19 Ontario government relief

In this section, ONN has outlined some of the most relevant funding supports for the nonprofit sector.

ONN will continue to provide updates and analysis as more information is provided.

Relief funding for the nonprofit sector

On March 23, the Ontario government announced that it is providing $200 million in social services relief funding in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The province provided $148 million to municipalities and organizations that administer social services with funding to support them in their response to COVID-19. The funding was intended to help municipalities and social service providers such as shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and nonprofits continue to deliver their critical services, hire additional staff, and find ways to promote social distancing and self-isolation to keep clients safe and healthy. Ontario’s municipal service managers were asked to determine local needs and distribute the funding, ensuring clients are receiving the support they need. ONN will survey the sector gain in June to determine how the funds were distributed.

Funding was also made available to organizations delivering social services to First Nations individuals and families. Included in the $200 milion is an expanded Emergency Assistance program administered through Ontario Works ($52 million), to help individuals who do not qualify for emergency financial supports under federal programs. There will also be discretionary benefits available to those who already receive social assistance.

On April 4, the government announced an investment of $40 million to support organizations that provide residential services for children and youth, people with developmental disabilities and emergency shelters for women and families fleeing domestic violence. This $40 million included the $20 million that was previously announced, that was allowed to be carried over if not used in the FY 2019-2020. The fund is supposed to cover costs such as additional staffing, personal protective equipment and initiatives to support physical distancing. The aim of the fund is to provide organizations address the costs that emergency shelters are facing at this time.

For more information on the fund: https://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/crrf.aspx

In partnership with the Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA), the government of Ontario launched the new Ontario Community Support program to expand Meals on Wheels services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions in the province. Announced on April 20, the $11 million is an increase from the $5 million announced in the mini-budget.

For more information: www.ontariocommunitysupport.ca

Relief funding for employers

On May 9th, the Ontario government announced that in partnership with municipal and federal partners, as well as EarlyON and Family Centres, that it will provide support to local licensed child care centres for when parents and caregivers return to work.

The Ontario government launched a new website to help identify challenges and temporary solutions to respond to COVID-19. Individuals or organizations can identify opportunities for the provincial government to temporarily change a regulation or rule to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The intent is to use the information received to remove obstacles and ensure that organizations have the ability and flexibility to respond.

Organizations can submit their recommendations here

The goal of this program is to support commercial property owners who in turn can lower or forgo rent payments from their renters. The program will primarily be funded by the federal government, administered through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and implemented by the Ontario government through Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (OCECRA).

See ONN’s detailed analysis here

The Ministry of the Labour, Skill and Skills Development has partnered with Ontario’s Health and Safety Associations to provide guidelines for specific sectors. Resources will continue to be added as the government slowly moves to open new sectors of the economy.

Sector guidelines have been provided for the following sectors:

  • Construction
  • Food processing
  • Restaurant and food services
  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Long-term Care

ONN is currently looking into how these guidelines affect nonprofits across these industries and whether there will be more details targeted to the nonprofit sector more broadly, such as performance spaces, summer camps and places of worship.

For more information: Resources to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace

Some nonprofits may benefit from the deferral of Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) payments for up to six months. Employers who are covered by WSIB workplace insurance are automatically eligible for the deferral. The packaged applies to schedule 1 and schedule 2 organizations.

For more information: www.wsib.ca/en/financialrelief

Support for nonprofit workers

On April 25, 2020, the government of Ontario announced temporary pandemic pay for frontline workers from April 24 to August 13. Eligible essential workers will receive $4/hour worked on top of their regular wages. In addition, the Ontario government will be providing monthly lump-sum payments of $250 for four months to eligible frontline workers who work over 100 hours per month. Eligibility depends on role (frontline) and workplace. More details on how the funds will be transferred and then disseminated to workers will be announced shortly.

Nonprofits eligible for this funding include:

  • Long-term came homes
  • Home and community care
  • Developmental services
  • Intervenor residential sites (for people who are deaf-blind)
  • Indigenous healing and wellness facilities/shelters
  • Women’s shelters
  • Youth justice residential facilities
  • Children’s mental health (licensed) and other residentials child/family facilities
  • Homeless shelters, including hotel overflow and re-proposed arenas/community centres
  • Supportive housing facilities
  • Respite/drop-in centres
  • The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) announced that it has worked with the province to expand pandemic pay to include all addictions and mental health workers who, in a congregate setting, serve the same functions as workers in acute-care hospital settings previously noted as receiving pandemic pay

Early childhood educators and community health workers are not eligible for pandemic pay. Management is not eligible either, however it is unclear if management who has been redeployed to the frontlines is eligible.

Analysis

The government of Ontario’s Pandemic Pay is the cost-share temporary wage boost for essential workers program announced by the federal government.

Pandemic pay is a much needed boost for historically and traditionally low-waged and low-valued workers in essential services nonprofits and charities. However, a glaring gap is that it does not include early childhood educators and community health workers who are delivering essential services and particularly make up the low-waged and low-valued women workers in our sector.

Further details are still pending on how pandemic pay will be implemented by the province. For instance, whether the wage boost applies only to organizations that have ongoing transfer payment agreements with a provincial ministry or agency as this would mean that those eligible but funded through municipalities will be excluded, such as drop-in centres, food banks, and shelters.

If the sector can take advantage of the Wage Boost for Essential Workers, it can ensure essential service nonprofits retain staff and remain open to continue delivering services in communities. We are seeing a growing crisis in certain parts of the nonprofit sector, particularly in human service areas (outside urgent healthcare institutions) where frontline workers are risking their lives to go to work, often without adequate PPE and for wages that are now insufficient to keep workers in community settings rather than opting to work in higher-paid institutional settings or else stop work altogether and receive federal relief.

Status quo funding rates and pay structures were already creating recruitment and retention challenges in many nonprofit settings — these challenges have now become a full-blown crisis. In the long-term it will be important to not only sustain this temporary pay increase for the sector, but in a way that does not create internal inequities in pay within the sector and individual nonprofits and charities.

Read more of ONN’s analysis here

The government of Ontario is now offering free 24/7 emergency childcare to essential services workers during the pandemic as schools and daycares remain closed. Working with our child care partners, ONN advocated to the Ontario government asking for nonprofit workers providing essential services to be eligible for emergency child care.

On April 17 the list was adjusted to include workers in:

  • Developmental services
  • Victim services
  • Violence against women services
  • Anti-human trafficking services
  • Child welfare services (children’s aid societies)
  • Children’s residential settings
  • Shelters
  • Health care settings auxiliary works which (e.g., cooks and cleaning staff in hospitals and long-term care homes)

More information can be found here

Declared emergencies and infectious disease emergencies are the two categories wherein employees can take a leave of absence from work. The infectious disease emergencies leave is in addition to the emergency declared leave that was already in the Employment Standards Act (ESA).

Declared emergencies

Where there has been an emergency declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), and an employee is unable to work, they can take an unpaid leave of absence for the following reasons:

  • They are subject to an order under the EMCPA
  • They are subject to an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA)
  • They are needed to provide care or assistance to a specified individual
  • They are subject to other reasons prescribed

Infectious disease emergencies

For infectious disease emergencies, employees can take a leave of absence for the following reasons:

  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19
  • The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act
  • The employee is in isolation or in quarantine in accordance with public health information or direction
  • The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure
  • The employee is prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions

No sick notes, but other “evidence” may be required

Under declared or infectious disease emergencies, employers may ask for ”evidence reasonable in the circumstances,” in order for employees to take unpaid leave of absence. This can look like a note from a day-care or an airline cancellation notice, but the employer cannot ask employees for a sick note as evidence.

Restrictions apply

It is important to note that the leave is unpaid and is only applicable “until the day the emergency is terminated or disallowed.” Also depending on the circumstances of employees, the leave may be applied differently e.g. an employee who self-isolates for 14 days may be treated differently from an employee who needs to provide care due to school closures. The new law also gives the Cabinet the power to exempt certain classes of employees.

Expansion of categories of family relationships receiving care

For employees providing care, support and assistance for others (e.g. family members), the new law expands the categories of family relationships to whom the provision applies:

  • The employee’s spouse
  • A parent, step-parent, or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A child who is under legal guardianship of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A brother, step-brother, sister or step-sister of the employee
  • A grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A brother-in-law, step-brother-in-law, sister-in-law or step-sister-in-law of the employee
  • A son-in-law or daughter-in-law of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • An uncle or aunt of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A nephew or niece of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • The spouse of the employee’s grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece
  • A person who considers the employee to be like a family member, provided the prescribed conditions, if any, are met
  • Any individual prescribed as a family member

Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020

On March 19, the Ontario government passed the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 (Bill 186). The Act amends the provisions around leaves of absence, by repealing provisions of Declared Emergency Leave of the ESA and introduces a new leave: Declared Emergencies and Infectious Disease Emergencies. With these changes, employees who are in quarantine or in isolation due to COVID-19, or those who need to be away to provide care for children due to school or daycare closures or employees providing care, are now provided with unpaid job-protected emergency leave of absence. These measures are retroactive to January 25, 2020.

The retroactive measures taken by the Ontario government below are a step in the right direction. It means that a broader swath of workers will be able to take unpaid leave and not risk losing their jobs. However, Bill 186 does not adequately support Ontario’s nonprofit workforce during this time of crisis. It does not protect or supplement wages for workers nor does it include any provisions to provide paid sick and emergency leave. Such measures would support Ontario’s nonprofit employers and workers as well as the communities they serve. More substantial provisions would allow the nonprofit sector to provide decent work to its employees at a time when they are needed most. These are critical investments that are needed at crucia