Province entering “uncharted territory” with financial aid package: Moe

A PST remittance deferral, a student loan repayment moratorium and as self-isolation support program are a few of the measures included in a new financial aid package aimed at helping residents and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial government announced four new measures, along with the creation of a Business Response Team, shortly before Friday afternoon’s media update in Regina.

“Our government’s goal is to dovetail with the federal government’s very comprehensive financial support plan that was announced earlier this week,” Premier Scott Moe said. “Our plan is to support businesses and to support employees. Most importantly, it supports the opportunity to come back got work when we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.”

The biggest measure is a three-month PST remittance deferral and audit suspension, which will come into effect immediately. Under the plan, Saskatchewan businesses that do not have the funds to remit their PST can receive relief from penalty and interest charges. The government estimates that this could result in up to $750 million in PST collection deferrals.

Moe emphasized that the move was a deferral, not a removal, and said the government had enough cash and reserves on hand to cover the delay. However, he also said there was no guarantee this would be enough to help Saskatchewan small business owners survive.

“That is a question that no one can answer,” Moe said. “We are in uncharted territory.”

Starting on Monday, a number of small businesses will be forced to close. The list includes restaurants, bistros, cafes, massage therapists and hair salons. Other businesses, like bars and nightclubs, were forced to close on Friday. Businesses that are allowed to stay open, like grocery stores and gas stations, must take steps to ensure customers and employees stay at least two metres apart.

In addition to the PST deferral, the government has suspended all audit program and compliance actives to allow businesses to focus on health and safety for employers and clients. Businesses that are unable to file their provincial tax returns by the due date will also be allowed to request relief from penalties and interest charges.

The government also introduced a self-isolation support program aimed at self-employed residents who have to go into quarantine. The program will provide those residents with $450 a week for a maximum of two weeks. Moe said they’ve set aside $10 million for the program. Further details will be available at www.Saskatchewan.ca/covid19 on Monday.

“This program is designed to ensure that all Saskatchewan residents are covered by either a federal or provincial program,” Moe said. “This will ensure that no one is faced with choosing to work instead of protecting their family and their community from COVID-19 by self-isolating.”

The provincial government’s six-month student loan moratorium is expected to cost around $4 million. It’s based on a similar plan enacted by the federal government earlier this week, and will take effect immediately.

The provincial government also made further changes to The Employment Standard Regulations, extending the amount of time employers can provide a temporary layoff for 16 weeks instead of 12, giving employees easier access to enhanced federal employment insurance benefits.

“We want to provide (residents with) every incentive to self-isolate,” Moe said. “What we’ve done is dovetail in on the federal program to really make (it) as accessible as possible for employees, but also fill some of the gaps provincially that maybe the federal program didn’t quite grab.”

The government has already changed The Saskatchewan Employment Act to remove the 13-week employment requirement to access sick leave, along with the requirement to have a doctor’s note to access sick leave.

The new Business Response Team will be led by the Ministry of Trade and Export Development. It will work with businesses to identify necessary program supports for Saskatchewan businesses. Contact information will be provided to the public and local chambers of commerce once the team has been formally established. The government also plans to create a webpage for businesses to access information.

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