Front-line workers unhappy with new provincial funding

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While front-line workers started applying for the province’s $120-million Manitoba Risk Recognition Program on Wednesday, Brandon-area support agencies are finding that most of their employees do not qualify for this financial boost of approximately $1,000 each.

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This article was published 06/06/2020 (801 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While front-line workers started applying for the province’s $120-million Manitoba Risk Recognition Program on Wednesday, Brandon-area support agencies are finding that most of their employees do not qualify for this financial boost of approximately $1,000 each.

According to Brenda Elmes, executive director for Brandon Community Options, only approximately 30 per cent of her 100 direct-support professionals are eligible for this one-time payment, even though they’ve spent the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic looking after adults with intellectual disabilities.

“I’m very disappointed that all of our employees aren’t benefitting from that hero pay,” she told the Sun on Friday. “Because they’re all risking their lives in the same way that we hear on the news day-in and day-out.”

Direct support professionals Lynda Bullee and Tamera Irvine pose for a photo outside a Brandon Community Options house on Friday. While Irvine is a full-time employee for the non-profit agency, who has been working overtime throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she does not qualify for the province's Risk Recognition Program. Meanwhile, a part-time employee like Bullee is eligible for government funding since she earned less than $6,250 between March 20 and May 29. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

Elmes’ biggest point of contention with the program is its income threshold, which dictates workers who earned more than $6,250 between March 20 to May 29 cannot apply for this financial compensation.

This stipulation is problematic since many members of her non-profit agency had no choice but to work overtime during this unprecedented period, ultimately resulting in a larger-than-average payout.

“The individuals we support would normally go to a day service during the day, but because of COVID they’re (always) at home,” she said. “So we were staffing extra shifts in all of those homes that we wouldn’t normally do.”

Kim Longstreet from Family Visions Inc. said her agency is facing a similar predicament, with only 19 out of 91 employees qualifying for the program.

Even though the fund is designed to support low-income workers in particular, Longstreet said this designation completely misses the point.*

“If you’ve worked at an essential service since the beginning of COVID-19 you deserve the same respect across the board regardless of your pay scale,” she wrote in a Thursday email to the Sun. “Everyone leaving their homes to go to work is at risk of dying from COVID-19 no matter what they are paid.”

The province originally announced this pandemic bonus fund in mid-May, although Premier Brian Pallister recently revealed the specifics of the program this past Tuesday during a news conference.

The categories of workers who qualify for the payment include cashiers, cooks, security guards, early childhood educators, social workers, nurses and bus drivers.

Outside of mentioning the $6,250 income threshold, Pallister also said successful applicants must have worked a minimum of 200 hours between March 20 — the date of the first COVID-19 public health order — and May 29.

Almost immediately, these guidelines were met with criticism from groups like the Manitoba Nurses Union, who quickly deduced that large swathes of caregivers will be excluded from the fund due to the demanding nature of their work during a pandemic.

However, Elmes said this oversight isn’t anything new, since people in their line of work are constantly getting the short end of the stick from the province when it comes to wage increases and proper funding.

“The issues have been here long before Pallister came,” she said. “I’ve been with Brandon Community Options for 33 years, and the last two decades have been a battle to get properly funded for our staff.”

In this sense, Brandon Community Options employee Lynda Bullee told the Sun on Friday that a one-time payment model is faulty from the get-go, since it doesn’t address the larger problem of funding cuts and wage stagnation that are affecting caregivers across the province.

“It’s like giving a kid a candy bar and hoping that they’ll be quiet for an hour,” she said.

Front-line workers can apply for the Manitoba Risk Recognition Program by visiting gov.mb.ca/covid19/infomanitobans/mrrp.html. The province will be accepting submissions up until June 18.

*This section of the article has been changed to better reflect the interviewee’s thoughts.  

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson

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