Federal government loaned nearly $ 18 million to Canadians stranded abroad with COVID-19, but few have paid it back
The federal government has loaned Canadians stranded abroad by the COVID-19 pandemic a total of nearly $ 18 million to help cover emergency expenses, such as a return flight, but only a handful of taxpayers have refunded the money.
The government announced the COVID-19 emergency loan program in March, as thousands of Canadians traveling and living abroad scramble to find a way home at the onset of the pandemic. The program allowed Canadians to apply for an interest-free loan of up to $ 5,000 to help secure an emergency return flight or to temporarily cover their “basic” needs while they tried to find a flight.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Global Affairs Canada said that as of Friday 4,810 Canadians had been approved for emergency loans – a total value of $ 17.86 million. However, only 175 loans had been repaid. Global Affairs said it could not provide the total dollar amount of the loans repaid because figures were not yet available and the ministry was in “the very early stages” of collecting repayments.
Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the number of repayments was in line with government expectations as it only recently started issuing loan bills. Loan recipients are required to repay the money within 180 days – about six months – after receiving a government bill.
“We’re hoping people will take the time they have now and the next, really, six months to pay it off,” Mr. Oliphant said.
“This is Canadian taxpayer money, so we expect it to be refunded.”
Loans that are not repaid on time will be returned to the Canada Revenue Agency for collection, Global Affairs said. The CRA did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said that while there must be some compassion given the emergency circumstances, the loans have yet to be repaid.
“If they are not reimbursed, it will be a greater burden on everyone,” Wudrick said. “People took these loans in good faith knowing they were loans. They should make every reasonable effort to repay. They should not be expected to be written off.”
Conservative foreign affairs spokesman Michael Chong said that although the number of refunds is low, the opposition hopes the CRA will work hard to ensure the refund. He said he was more concerned about the Liberal government’s “slowness” in repatriating vulnerable Canadians stranded abroad at the start of the pandemic.
“At first, the Conservatives called for a stronger effort to repatriate Canadians stranded abroad, including ensuring that vulnerable Canadians identified as higher priority evacuees receive confirmed tickets for designated flights and chartering commercial aircraft, ”Chong said.
At the start of the pandemic, Canadian officials in Ottawa and abroad worked around the clock to help repatriate thousands of citizens, in what Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne described as the “Largest peacetime consular operation in Canadian history. “Although the consular response has declined significantly, Canadians stranded abroad can still apply for a loan. As of Friday, 140 applications were under review.
“Global Affairs Canada continues to ensure that eligible Canadians receive financial assistance to return to Canada and to support themselves while they work upon their return. Ensuring the health and safety of Canadians, both at home and abroad, is our top priority, ”said Global Affairs spokesperson Ciara Trudeau.
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