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P.E.I Offers Financial Support To Assist International Students And Non-Profit Organization

A provincial relief fund originally meant to support those who slip through the cracks of other government relief funds will be restarted to provide more financial support to foreign students and non-profit organizations.

Steven Myers, Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, made the announcements before the legislature on Thursday, that special situations funds would be reopened, offering more than $500,000 CAD in financial support.

The program had been closed as of early June after distributing financial support to 444 persons and organizations.

Myers explained the funds were established early in the pandemic amid a flurry of financial relief programs from both the provincial and federal government.

“We swiftly realized that, as a government, we can’t know every situations Islanders are facing,” Myers told members of the legislature on Thursday.

“The special situations fund was then established as a way to help us fill any gaps.”

The funds were offered to individuals who were not qualified for other federal income relief support, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). This special situations fund provides a one-time payment of up to $1,000 for people who did not qualify for the CERB or other provincial supports.

The Minister said much of the funding has so far supported individuals who needed more than one job to make ends meet. These people, Myers said, were not eligible for the CERB program because they continued to work, even after losing one job.

Many of the 1,500 foreign students on Prince Edward Island experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some had relied on support from their home country but found this support halted as their families also faced job losses.

In an interview, the minister said he has heard stories from Holland College administrators of some international students living in residence who can’t return to their home country but who have few job prospects in the island over the coming tourism season.

“It would be a very negative by-product of the pandemic if we didn’t do our due diligence to help people,” Myers said.

About $1 million was originally earmarked for the special situation fund in early April. Of this, $427,000 has been distributed to date, and the rest will be distributed in this second round of funding.

We heard reports in early May that several students had applied for the special situations fund in April but had been told they were not qualified. Others found they were often denied of other provincial or federal relief programs.

Some community groups have started establishing online GoFundMe campaigns for foreign students unable to afford groceries or facing sudden tuition arrears. A $77,000 fund created by UPEI for students facing financial challenges was quickly depleted.

Myers said the initial special situation fund did not exclude foreign students, but some were referred to other funding options administered through Holland College or UPEI.

However, Opposition Green MLA Hannah Bell stated she heard from international students who were told they were specifically not eligible for the first round of the special intervention fund.

In late May, Bell raised the matter in the legislature.

“I had asked the minister then, specifically, about the special intervention fund and why (it) was closed,” Bell said.

“The gaps have not gone away.”

Bell also noted she has been pushing since late May for more financial aids for non-profit organizations in Prince Edward Island, whose fundraising has been badly affected by the COVID-19 economic downturn.

On Thursday, Hannah Myers thanked Bell for her advocacy on the issue.