A new federal grant that pays post-secondary students to volunteer during the pandemic listed 97 opportunities in Manitoba Friday: from storytelling about how COVID-19 has changed children's lives for the Kids Help Phone, to conducting surveys for the Girl Guides of Canada.

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A new federal grant that pays post-secondary students to volunteer during the pandemic listed 97 opportunities in Manitoba Friday: from storytelling about how COVID-19 has changed children's lives for the Kids Help Phone, to conducting surveys for the Girl Guides of Canada.

The Canada Student Service Grant is aimed at getting 100,000 volunteers for not-for-profit organizations facing COVID-19 service challenges. It offers students from $1,000 to $5,000 toward the cost of post-secondary education.

Business reacts to paying volunteers

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business isn't sure what effect, if any, a federal incentive to volunteer will have on hiring in Manitoba, where the economy is reopening more quickly than in other provinces.

"Its kind of a tough question," said Manitoba director Jonathan Alward. In late May, the federation cited the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as the main reason members had difficulty with staffing. That is not the biggest concern right now.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business isn't sure what effect, if any, a federal incentive to volunteer will have on hiring in Manitoba, where the economy is reopening more quickly than in other provinces.

"Its kind of a tough question," said Manitoba director Jonathan Alward. In late May, the federation cited the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as the main reason members had difficulty with staffing. That is not the biggest concern right now.

"Relatively speaking, more Manitoba businesses are open here than in most other provinces but revenues are still down," said Alward.

The federation regularly surveys its members. In the latest survey, as of June 22, 62 per cent of Manitoba small businesses are fully open, but only 23 per cent have revenues at or above normal levels for this time of year. Forty-one per cent of businesses are at or above normal staffing.

That's better than the Canadian average — with 53 per cent of businesses fully opened, 32 per cent fully staffed and 19 per cent reporting normal sales.

The biggest worry for Canadian small businesses is the economic effect of COVID-19 (68 per cent) and reduced consumer spending (64 per cent), the latest survey shows.

Federal programs, such as the CERB and the Canada Student Service Grant, that provide direct financial support to people so they can spend more, may be more needed now than workers.

The $912-million program, which was promised in April, was unveiled Thursday. The volunteer opportunities it supports have to respect social distancing and other health and safety precautions set out by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

National non-profits that had virtual volunteering gigs ready to roll out were the first to register on the federal government's "I Want To Help" website.

"I feel this grant is a win for everyone in civil society," said Shireen Salti, interim executive director at the Canadian Arab Institute, which posted several volunteer positions.

She said non-profits that have been especially hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic are getting an injection of fresh ideas and energy. The Toronto-based institute is seeking volunteers for several projects across Canada. They include youth documenting the stories of Arab seniors in Canada, and researching how COVID-19 has affected Arabs, Blacks and South Asians, Salti said.

"I feel this grant is a win for everyone in civil society." – Interim executive director at the Canadian Arab Institute Shireen Salti

In Manitoba, many non-profits have had to close because of the pandemic.

Jackie Hunt, executive director of Volunteer Manitoba, said they'll direct inquiries about the grant program to the website.

"Within the next week or so, you'll likely see more local things pop up," said Hunt. "It's going to be a good opportunity for non-profits to get projects done they don't have resources to do and for university students to get experience and pay for their tuition."

But struggling international students far from home say the program excludes them.

Francisca Idigbe, left, and Elsa Owusu

SUPPLIED

Francisca Idigbe, left, and Elsa Owusu

"COVID-19 has created unprecedented disruption for international students across Canada," the University of Winnipeg Student Association's International Students co-directors said Friday. International students are struggling to make ends meet and need support, Elsa Owusu and Francisca Idigbe said in an email. "We are calling on the federal government to provide income support to international students."

Others have raised questions about Toronto-based WE Charities, which runs the grant program. The international charity, formerly known as Free the Children, was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is an "ambassador and ally" for the organization and hosts a podcast in association with WE.

JUSTIN TANG / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is an "ambassador and ally" for the organization and hosts a podcast in association with WE.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is an "ambassador and ally" for the organization and hosts a podcast in association with WE.

The federal government said the Department of Employment and Social Development recommended WE Charity because it has the necessary experience, expertise and capacity to deliver the large scale program.

Students who get the Canada Emergency Student Benefit ($1,250 monthly, or higher for students with disabilities or dependants) are eligible for the grant program. Students who get the $2,000 monthly Canada Emergency Response Benefit are not.

The grant program is open to those 30 and under.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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