The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

I’m a university student. I live away from my parents, pay rent and utilities monthly, have student loans and work part-time — and I am worried.

Calgary, my current city, as well as my home province of Alberta are under a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other individuals, this has impacted every avenue of my life — going to class, my weekly volunteer outings, working my job and my upcoming internship placement.

On March 18, both the provincial and federal governments announced programs intended to ease the financial strain on people who are feeling particularly anxious at this time, like me.

“The Government of Alberta is acting boldly with a series of measures to keep cash in the bank accounts of Alberta families and to reduce the financial stress on Alberta employers at this very challenging time,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a press conference.

I began working in November during the holiday season as a way to pay my rent and buy groceries (which largely consisted of Ichiban and the occasional vegetable).

Cadillac Fairview (CF) which manages the mall I work in, made the decision on March 14 to reduce facility hours as a way to limit the spread of the virus.

My scheduled 21.8 hour work week was over — now being covered by my full-time colleagues.

In a statement issued on March 17, CF explained, “our first priority is the health and safety of our guests, tenants/their employees and our employees across our portfolio.”

It continues, “In light of many local governments taking actions to support our communities during this difficult time, Cadillac Fairview, as well as our industry peers will be limiting the hours of operation at our shopping malls.”

This initiated the first round of shift cuts. My scheduled 21.8 hour work week was over — now being covered by my full-time colleagues.

As of March 17, my place of work decided to shut its doors until March 31. Following in the steps of other retailers, I was glad to see that the business made the choice to put their workers ahead of profit. But then came the issue of pay.

Originally, we were told that pay would be issued based on the hours one would typically work in a week. For me, that could be anywhere from five to 22 hours.

Thankfully for me, and many others in my position, both the federal and provincial governments have announced measures to assist those whose jobs have been affected as a result of coronavirus.

But, as the company had predicted a decrease in traffic and cut original shifts and budget to begin with, we were now being told that we would be paid based on the modified schedule. This left me with a total of 8 ½ scheduled hours over the next two weeks. At $15 per hour, my payout for a two-week period is set to be $127.50 before taxes.

So, with rent and the desire to eat looming over my head, I knew I had to do something.

Thankfully for me and many others in my position, both the federal and provincial governments have announced measures to assist those whose jobs have been affected as a result of coronavirus.

Emergency isolation support

The Alberta government has designated $50 million to a temporary program that will provide financial support for working adult Albertans who must self-isolate because they meet the criteria for self-isolation set out by the Alberta Health Services. This includes individuals who are the primary caregiver for a dependent adult who must self-isolate and those who do not have an additional source of pay or compensation while they are self-isolated.

As federal payment plans aren’t expected to reach the pockets of Canadians until early April, this program is intended to “bridge the gap.”

The program, which distributes a one-time payment of $1,146 went live on Wednesday and people who qualify are being encouraged to apply immediately.

According to the COVID-19 Supports for Albertans page, eligible recipients can expect that funds will be deposited in their accounts beginning next week.

Utility payment holiday

Albertans can also expect a temporary break on their utilities.

“We have worked through the Alberta Utilities Commission with our electricity and gas providers to ensure a deferment of bill payments for the next 90 days to ensure that no one will be cut off from services during this time of crisis,” Kenney said.

Kenney also said the provincial government has approached municipal governments to ask if they could employ the same flexibility for water consumers.

Lauryn 2

Many Canadians are in a pinch when it comes to finances, as COVID-19 has forced several businesses to close and numerous individuals to self-isolate, some without pay. Photo courtesy of Andrew Khoroshavin via Pixabay.

Student loans repayment deferral

A six-month, interest-free moratorium has been placed on Alberta student loan payments for every Albertan that is currently in the process of paying back their loans.

Beginning March 30, Alberta Student Loan repayments will be paused for six months. Individuals do not need to worry about accumulating interest during this time.

There is no requirement to pause repayment; however, those who choose to temporarily suspend payments are not required to apply for such. Choosing to continue making payments during this time does not exclude anyone from choosing to receive the benefit at any time.

Banks and credit unions

ATB customers can apply for a deferral on their loans, lines of credit and mortgage payments for up to six months.

Those who are members of a credit union will have access to different programs developed to lift the weight off their shoulders when it comes to loan payments and short-term cash flow.

How is the federal government contributing?

The Canadian government has also announced measures to assist citizens during this time.

These include everything from increasing the child tax benefit to extending the income tax filing deadline to June 1.

Similar to the provincial government, the federal Liberals have added resources for those facing unemployment, including improved access to employment insurance, a new emergency support benefit and an increased goods and services tax credit this year.

Where does this leave me and other students?

I technically do not meet the criteria to receive the Emergency Isolation Support as I am not the sole caregiver for a dependent adult or child that must be isolated following Alberta Health Services recommendations.

Alyx Maga, who is also a student, decided to file for employment insurance after the restaurant she works part-time at closed its doors due to coronavirus.

“I really think that the government should be doing more to help workers in the service industry because the closure of our businesses has been mandated,” Maga says.

If her EI application does not get approved, Maga has no other source of income to cover her rent, utilities, car and loan payments.

“It really sucks.”

I can no longer attend my classes at Mount Royal University. Nor can I spend my regular four hours a week assisting students in the university’s Office of Student Success. Gawking over new shoe styles and selling them to customers with my co-workers is no longer part of my routine.

I was supposed to spend six weeks in Toronto this spring interning for the CBC — that’s not happening either. With every potential internship position cancelled for the foreseeable future, it is possible that I and several of my classmates will not graduate on time.

I think there will be a sense of longing now about what could have been for the spring of 2020. 

Nursing students pulled from their clinicals and preceptorships, teachers without practicum placements and journalists without internships.

All students are being affected during this pandemic, especially those who rely on experiential learning.

I am getting to a place of acceptance now, where I recognize that this is necessary to flatten the curve and to slow the rate of spread of this awful disease. However, I think there will be a sense of longing now about what could have been for the spring of 2020. 

I have done more reading on unemployment insurance in the last 24 hours than I have my whole entire life. I’ve gone back through schedules for summer jobs to calculate what my week of highest earnings was. I’ve prepared what I am going to say to my former boss when I call to ask for my Record of Employment— something I never thought I would have to do. 

But, we’re all in a state of “never-thought” right now and there isn’t much we can do about it. I’m holding out hope that everything will work out and some part of me knows that it will.

“The bottom line for Albertans that are feeling anxious right now is they need to know that there is relief,” Kenney said.

Let’s just hope that my EI application goes through…that would make everything a bit easier.

Additional resources regarding information and updates on COVID-19 support for Albertans:

Daily updates

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

COVID-19 Support for Albertans

Editor: Hadeel Abdel-Nabi | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Want the latest Calgary Journal content? Subscribe to our newsletter.