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St. Albert employer ponders Critical Worker Benefit, extended to Aug. 31

The benefit is available for workers in eligible occupations, with an eligible employer, who worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 12, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, and who have earned a gross hourly wage of $25 or less.
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Premier Jason Kenney announces $465 million in funding for Alberta's critical workers on Feb. 10, 2021.

Local business owner and taxi driver Douglas Clarke said even if he had heard of the Critical Worker Benefit, he would not have time to apply for it.

“I'm just too small a company, and I just don't have the time to do it. I have to be on the road every day,” he said.

On July 23 the province announced it would extend the application period for the $1,200 one-time benefit for private-sector employers to Aug. 31. 

The previous application deadline was July 23, but the Alberta government made the extension to allow businesses, much like Clarke’s – who have been focused on reopening, rehiring staff, and working – a chance to submit an application. 

The government is set to spend a total of $465 million on the program.

Jason Copping, Minister of Labour and Immigration, said in a press statement emailed by his office to The Gazette, the program was extended, “in order to make sure workers receive their benefit, and small and medium businesses have the time needed to fill out the applications.”

The benefit is available for workers in eligible occupations, with an eligible employer, who worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 12, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, and who have earned a gross hourly wage of $25 or less.

The announcement follows a June 22 announcement that added private-sector workers to the eligibility list, which included truck drivers, farm workers, security guards, cleaners, funeral workers, employees at quick service and dine-in restaurants, and taxi and limousine drivers.

Clarke owns Saint City delivery and Ride Services Ltd and currently employs five contract drivers.

Unlike most occupations, taxi and limousine drivers are eligible to apply for the benefit themselves if they are self-employed.

The requirements for self-employed taxi and limousine drivers include providing a municipal taxi permit, proof of insurance, lines from 2020 Federal Income Tax and Benefit, a self-attest to hours worked, and an application to the program from the website.

“If cab drivers are smart, they will take it,” said Clarke.

For Clarke, who works seven days a week, there just isn’t enough time. He said wishes the government wouldn’t make things so difficult with red tape.

“The hoops to jump through that government crapola, the red tape that they have – is just not worth the time for me,” he said.

Business for him has been a roller coaster. He said at first, ridership went down by 90 per cent and deliveries went up by 40 per cent.

“Then as things started opening up, deliveries started declining and ridership started climbing. And then every time they would close, I would lose the ridership … it was such a roller coaster – a lot of ups and downs,” he said.

Before COVID, Clarke said drivers would pull in $300-$400 days, and now they are lucky if they can pull in $200.

Clarke opened his business on March 5, 2020, after his previous employer shut down his taxi business.

On March 17, 2020, the government told everyone to stay home. Clarke remembers it because it was on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the best nights of the year for drivers.

“When I started, like when COVID hit, I had two drivers, and that was that,” he said.

Since then, he has added three more drivers.

“I'm up to five drivers now. I'm hoping, as things progress, I'll be able to add another vehicle, put on another two drivers, and try to grow the company again, slowly. I've gone into major debt ... so it's a matter of just slowly picking at it,” he said.

Despite not applying for the benefit himself, Clarke said it is nice to have some recognition from the government. He has worked throughout the pandemic driving regular customers, people who were too afraid to take the bus, and other essential workers.

“We go the extra mile for people. And they, the people recognize it, but the government never has.”