By Jack Mintz, July 8, 2020
The uproar over the WE Charity fiasco raises a host of issues concerning COVID-19 funding for post-secondary education that have not been properly explored. The ethics commissioner will focus on the prime minister’s potential conflict of interest. My concern is different. Why would an almost $1-billion program starting in July — halfway through students’ summers — even be considered, given how lucrative existing relief programs for students are? Spending seems to be getting out of hand.
As I document below, over $9 billion in new federal spending is estimated to be spent on programs to support students or recent graduates. This vast amount does not include other measures that potentially benefit students, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the Canada wage subsidy program and increases in the GST low-income tax credit and the child benefit, not to mention various provincial support programs.
About 2.1 million students are enrolled in post-secondary institutions, a half million of them part-time. Many full-time students work while at school or during the summer to help cover the costs of their education. Most part-time students also work, often full-time. On an equivalent full-time student basis, the support being offered to students sums to about $5,000 per student this coming year. (By comparison, the average undergraduate tuition fee across Canada is $6,500).
The largest program is the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), equal to a taxable $1,250 for each four-week period from May to September, plus an additional benefit of $750 per four weeks for those with a disability or a dependent child less than 12 years of age. Whether the student has been enrolled full- or part-time does not matter: the same payment is made even though full-time enrolment is more expensive. Students claiming the CERB, which pays $2,000 a month, or anyone earning more than $1,000 in employment income for the four-week period cannot claim the student benefit.