Are you underemployed and almost out of cash due to the coronavirus lockdown and thinking of a way out? Consider this:

Did you know that welfare doesn’t exist anymore in Canada?

What this actually means is that what used to be called welfare – various forms of government assistance – is now classified as social assistance or support programs of various kinds at both the federal and provincial level.

So yes, we still have welfare in Canada, but we don’t label it as such anymore.

Interested in finding out what’s available if you’re struggling in these hard times? Or would you rather talk about the Leafs’ chances next year? No? Ok, let’s dig into social assistance and support in Canada in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two people wearing masks due to the pandemic via


The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) Support for the Pandemic

ODSP is a social assistance program run by Ontario’s provincial government that requires you to prove:

  • You are in financial need, AND
  • You are a person with a disability – although this requirement is lifted for certain groups of people (see below).

Ontario Works (OW) is a local program run by local governments like municipalities but managed by the provincial government for low-income people.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be able to apply for emergency assistance under either or both OSDP and OW, but you must do so online as OW is requesting you do NOT visit their local offices to apply.

Here’s a guide how to go about applying for emergency assistance from the Ontario government.

Emergency assistance cannot be more than what you would receive under OW guidelines and may often be less.

  • If you are single and need help to pay for food and shelter you might receive up to CAD$733 a month. This is far less than what food and rent cost even in cheaper smaller cities in Canada.
  • If you have children, you may be eligible for more support.
  • You will get this support for up to 48 days. That’s not even 2 additional months, so this emergency aid is clearly meant as insurance to help you through about a 6-week period after which you will be expected to pay your own way or rely on the federal government (see below).

To be eligible to apply you must:

  • Be a resident of Ontario who is facing a crisis and can’t meet ordinary daily expenses like food and housing. This can be due to COVID-19 or due to things like:
  • Risk of eviction from your home;
  • Being in an abusive relationship;
  • Concerns about your safety.

You CANNOT already be receiving assistance from ODSP or OW.

You have 2 ways to apply for emergency assistance:

  • Call your local Ontario Works office. Go here to find your nearest OW office. Remember to gather details about your personal finances, like bank accounts etc. with information on your balances as well as information on your monthly expenses and why you cannot meet them due to COVID-19. Then phone the office. DON’T go in person to the OW office.
  • Apply online.


Applying for ODSP/OW Online

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Ensure you have access to the internet and have the latest version of one of the following 3 browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari.
  2. Gather the following information:
    • Your and your family’s personal details
    • Your housing costs
    • Your total family income and assets
    • Your bank account information (assuming you have one).
  3. Go here to answer a brief survey and then – assuming you are not ineligible – fill out your online application form.

Your application will be reviewed by an employee at your nearest Ontario Works office and a decision will be made.

You should be contacted by an OW employee within 4 business days of submitting your online application. You may be requested to provide more information like bills or rental agreements, for example. If no further documentation is required and your application for emergency assistance is approved, you will receive a call telling you how much assistance you will be given.

If your application has been approved and you have given OW your bank account information, you should get a direct deposit within 2 business days into your bank account. If you do not have a bank account, you should receive a cheque in the mail within 7 business days.

Federal Government Support for COVID-19

Canada’s federal government has also put in place an emergency assistance program to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit  (CERB). Here’s how it works:

  • It is intended to provide you with income support for up to 16 weeks (evaluated every 4 weeks as explained below) with a payment of CAD$500 per week for the duration of the support.
  • To be eligible you must:
    • Be a worker residing in Canada who is 15 years old and older.
    • Not be receiving EI or regular sickness benefits and have not quit your job voluntarily.
    • Be unable to work because of COVID-19. Specifically, you must have stopped working or will stop working for at least 14 consecutive days within the 4-week benefit period. This evaluation will be repeated every 4 weeks in order to ensure that you remain without work due to COVID-19 during each of the four 4-week evaluation periods.
    • Have had an annual income of at least CAD$5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months previous to your application for CERB in the form of employment income or self-employment income. CERB does NOT replace lost investment or rental income. It is only for employment or self-employment income that has been lost or severely reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The CERB is being jointly administered by Service Canada & the Canada Revenue Agency.

To apply, go here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to begin answering a brief survey and thin click on the blue “Continue” button which will then lead here to the application form.

BC COVID-19 Support for Income and Disability Insurance

This is an automatic additional payment of CAD$300 that will be added to your social assistance cheques for the months of April, May, and June.

To be eligible you must:

  • NOT be receiving:
    • EI (employment insurance)
    • the CERB;
  • Be on one of the following BC social assistance programs:
    • Income Assistance
    • Disability Assistance
    • Comfort Allowance
    • BC Senior’s Supplement.

What is Alberta Doing?

Here you’re out of luck, unfortunately, as premier Kenney shut down the provinces Emergency Isolation Support Program at the end of the first week of April, with overwhelming demand causing the system to apparently malfunction. Many applicants had their applications suddenly refused so it appears that Albertans will have to rely on CERB from the federal government, at least for the time being. Given the total collapse in oil prices that the province of Alberta is facing, it may be they feel they just don’t have the funds to grant anymore support. Reportedly, nearly 80,000 applications for the one-time payment of CAD$1,146 were approved and paid out before premier Kenney shut the support program down.

There you have the principal COVID-19 responses in terms of social assistance by Canada’s 3 main anglophone provinces as well as by the federal government.

This is a fluid situation, needless to say, so check back with us for any new developments on this front and with regard to any news affecting immigration and new Canadians.  

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