Ontario to spend $2.1 B to bolster health system COVID-19 response

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips answers questions at Queen's Park in Toronto

Another measure announced Wednesday were one-time payments to parents of $200 per child up to 12 years of age, and $250 for children with special needs.

As of today, the province said it is projecting a deficit of $9.2 billion in 2019-20, and as a result of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is planning for a deficit of $20.5 billion in 2020-21.

As businesses face a major financial hit due to forced COVID-19 closures, the government will spend $6 billion in tax deferrals this fiscal year giving owners up to five months - August 31, 2020 - to pay their provincial taxes.

"During this global pandemic, I want the people of Ontario to be focused on their health - not worrying about losing their job or how to make ends meet as they deal with unexpected additional expenses", said Minister Phillips.

The new spending includes $3.3-billion for the health-care system, with $2.1-billion for "outbreak response measures" for hospitals, long-term care and public health, as well as a $1-billion COVID contingency fund.

The province will also increase spending on public health services by $160 million to increase COVID-19 monitoring, surveillance and lab testing.

The government says $594 million of that funding is meant to accelerate work to address capacity issues which have plagued the system for years.

The spending boost includes a $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund, almost $1 billion more for hospitals, and more personal protective equipment for front-line workers.

While the NDP has said its members will support the financial statement bill, Horwath said the Ford government needs to do more to ensure people are not in financial turmoil and prevent some businesses from going under.

Seniors will see a six-month doubling of the guaranteed annual income system.

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Other measures include $74-million for personal protection equipment for frontline healthcare workers and job protective leave for employees in isolation, quarantine and those caring for children.

Provision of approximately $5.6 billion for electricity cost relief programs for eligible residential, farm, and small business consumers in 2020-2021, an increase of about $1.5 billion in comparison to the 2019 Budget plan.

The government says the exemptions would apply to: Employer Health tax; Tobacco tax; Fuel tax; Gas tax; Beer, Wine and Spirits tax; Mining tax; Insurance Premium tax; International Fuel Tax and the Race Tracks tax.

The Ontario government also said it would provide emergency child care options to support parents working on the front lines, such as health care workers, police officers, firefighters and correctional officers.

"Far too many workers, families and small businesses were already struggling to stay afloat before the COVID-19 pandemic", said Horwath in a news release.

$52 million to expanding access to the emergency assistance program administered by Ontario Works.

Providing six months of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan and interest accrual relief, leaving more money in people's pockets. There will be a 10 per cent corporate tax credit for regions where there's lagging employment growth. Indigenous communities will see an additional $26 million for health care and critical supplies.

The Ontario government is also deferring required property tax payments municipalities make to school boards for three months, noting it will represent $1.8 billion in savings. "Together, these actions can free up as much as $10 billion in cash flows for businesses and people in these uncertain times, helping protect jobs and household budgets".

The latest projections out of Ontario were part of a mini-budget of sorts, as Phillips and Ontario's Progressive Conservative government were forced to delay tabling a full budget until November amid all the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

If the reserve, the largest in the province's history, is not used then the deficit drops to $18 billion this upcoming fiscal year. This responsible approach will allow the government to continue assessing the economic situation and put forward a long-term outlook based on the most recent and reliable data.

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