TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the Canadian economy and people’s livelihoods, stripping many of the financial security they worked so hard to build for their future.
Even as the arduous task of reopening the economy begins, those whose finances have been drastically impacted are left grappling with the loss of their income or the collapse of their businesses, leaving some unable to pay their rent or mortgages.
CTVNews.ca asked Canadians to share how the pandemic has impacted their finances. These are some of their stories:
DIPPING INTO SAVINGS TO SURVIVE
For so many Canadians, job uncertainty is one of the main causes of concern during the pandemic. Layoffs, coupled with unexpected emergency costs, have left some reeling.
“I was forced to evacuate Spain when the pandemic broke out there in March, causing me to fork over $3,000 for an emergency flight back to Canada as per the governments orders. On top of that, I was laid off permanently as an Event + Office manager from a Toronto based tech start-up,” Caitlyn Baird told CTVNews.ca via email.
“Although I am currently collecting [Canada Emergency Response Benefit] (CERB) it is not enough to cover my day-to-day bills and escalating credit card bill from the emergency flight home.”
Baird’s roommate also lost her job as a result of the pandemic, forcing her to move out and Baird to carry the rent that would normally have been split between them.
“I have had to dip into my savings drastically and have considered withdrawing from my RRSP,” she said.
Several people said they have been forced to dip into their savings or investments in order to cover their expenses, including education funds meant to be reserved for their children’s future.
Tracey Smith, a self-employed hairdresser from Peterborough, Ont., says the money she had put aside for much-needed home renovations has since been spent on her bills. Though she says she’s grateful to receive CERB, she says she is anxious to get back to work where she will make more money.
“I’m afraid if I don’t go back soon I’ll be dipping into my money set aside for my son to have braces – to cover my rent,” she said via email.
‘WORKING PEOPLE HAVE FALLEN THROUGH THE CRACKS’
Many people have also been left in the lurch, unable to qualify for the various emergency benefits introduced by the government due to their circumstances.
“[I] graduated from Pearson Adult Career Center (PACC) where I got a diploma in Dental Assisting. I started working part-time (two days per week, one Saturday a month) on December 5, 2019 at a small clinic, which suited me fine because I also have a 10-year-old,” Tracy St Amand told CTVNews.ca by email.
“I got laid off on March 12 because of COVID-19. I applied for employment insurance three weeks later when my boss sent me my record of employment and was refused because I hadn’t enough hours. I was then refused for CERB because I didn’t work last year (I had loans and bursaries) and didn’t make the required $5000.”
The Montreal-area woman says she had “no choice” but to go on social assistance to support her daughter.
“I was hopeful when Trudeau announced the financial assistance for recent graduates, but I also didn’t qualify for that one since I graduated a month before the date required,” she wrote.
“I find it unfair that so many working people have fallen through the cracks. Everyone who had a job or a valid reason for not having a job at the time of the shutdown should automatically receive assistance!”
ENTREPRENEURS GRIEVING THE LOSS OF THEIR BUSINESS
Small business owners, the self-employed, and seasonal workers are among some of the hardest-hit amid the ongoing economic uncertainty, and some say it may impact their financial stability for years to come.
April and Joseph Brunner, wedding photographers from Welland, Ont., have seen their income disappear over the course of the pandemic.
“We are likely going to lose an entire year’s worth of weddings, as well we cannot book new weddings for next year due to all the rescheduling. This means at least two years’ worth of income is up in the air,” they told CTVNews.ca in an email.
The couple says they are living off of their CERB payments, which only covers their monthly bills and groceries. They chose to defer their mortgage before receiving the CERB payment and received an unwelcome interest charge in return.
“We have a young son and we were planning on growing our family next year, but now we cannot because of how much we will need to work and lack of financial stability,” they wrote.
“This pandemic has changed our lives and none for the better.”
Some, like Jo Down, are now faced with the difficult decision to close their businesses, fearing they will be unable to recover the losses.
“[After] all these long hard years, I’d finally made it,” Down said in an email detailing his passion for the hospitality business and life-long goal of owning his own restaurant on B.C.’s Pender Island. Dubbed “Jo’s Place,” the restaurant’s motto was “You’ll be fine.”
“By design, the restaurant makes little or no money during the winter months… we create our revenue in the spring and summer. Ensuring our team makes a living year-round us most important, especially on the Gulf Islands where staffing is often difficult,” Down explained.
After the restaurant closed its doors on March 14, within the first month, Down estimates his losses were in the $75,000 to $80,000 range.
“Owning a restaurant on the southern Gulf Islands is hard. Tourism generates big revenues during May through August, and the locals keep you mostly afloat during the fall and winter. $175,000 in debt with no path to a successful tourism season on the horizon, veteran core staff having moved on, withering resources and a decaying desire to even try to re-open I’m left wondering what to do next. Pender is our home.”
Down says CERB and community support have provided “a few dollars to plug holes,” but he fears he will have to say goodbye to his “first love.”
“Today when I was at the restaurant gathering a few items… it started to settle in my mind and stomach that I may just have to let it go,” he wrote. “‘Goodbye my love,’ I thought to myself… I tried.”
Jennifer Bishop, a dance studio owner who specializes in teaching retirees to tap dance, feels the same uncertainty.
“One day I feel so hopeful, planning ideas of how to keep teaching online. The next day, I think I should give up both of my leases, sell all my business equipment and get a job (I even considered applying to Nada, the no packaging grocery store recently),” Bishop told CTVNews.ca in an email.
“I have had my dance studio for over 10 years and we were positioned very well for things to grow in this next year. This pandemic has just hit me in the shins.”
Like many small business owners, Bishop is unsure that she will be able to continue to operate her business after the lengthy closure and the new reality of operating at 50 per cent capacity to comply with physical distancing standards.
‘LEFT OUT OF ANY GOVERNMENT SUPPORT’
A number of seniors and retirees also wrote in with concerns that they have been left out of the conversation regarding pandemic finances, many noting they have seen significant losses on their Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).
“At 63 years of age I am in a group that has been left out of any government financial support,” Mike Wood said via email.
“I was restructured out of my job at age 60 and have not been able to regain employment. Since my severance ran out I have used my RRSP’s to support myself. Since the government shut the economy down the markets have gone into the toilet. I have lost so much value that I can no longer withdraw funds from my RRSPS as the principal has been decimated.”
Similarly, Mark Bourgon wrote in to say the pandemic has melted a “good portion” of his RRSPs.
“I have two years to [Registered Retirement Income Fund] (RRIF) and, although some recovery will take effect, there will still be a major deficit from where they would have been worth,” Bourgon told CTVNews.ca by email.
On May 12, the government announced that eligible seniors would receive a one-time tax-free payment of up to $500 in light of the pandemic’s effects. However, Bourgon and others say it’s not enough.
“The government says that seniors did not get hit badly because they have retirement income. How naive. $600 doesn’t cover 5 per cent of my losses. But, in spite of the government’s dismissal of seniors, we will survive.”
‘PAYING MORE ON OUR DEBTS THAN USUAL’
Yet, despite hardships, some have used the pandemic to re-evaluate their finances and save.
We heard from many people who said the lack of temptation to spend – be it eating out at restaurants or needless trips to the mall — has had a positive effect on their bank accounts. Others said they used their CERB payments to pay down high-interest debts.
Ottawa-area resident Rolf Hanson told CTVNews.ca by email that, despite his wife losing her income as a home daycare provider, his family has been able to pay their bills and put more money towards their debts thanks solely to their lack of spending.
Others have also found a silver lining to being laid off.
“It is week 10 of being laid off from our local Radio Station where I have worked for 16 years,” Susan Chapman told CTVNews.ca by email, adding that she is “one of the lucky ones.”
“I have been struggling this last year with finances as at the Radio Station [because] I am at the bottom of the salary grid. COVID-19 ironically enabled me to pay all of my bills while I am on EI. Minimal spending has continued as I really don’t go far.”
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