May 28, 2020

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Manitoba government offers insurance rebates, low-income food program

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Manitoba premier Brian Pallister, centre, speaks with Ministers Ron Schuler, left, and Jeff Wharton at an emergency COVID-19 physically distanced session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Manitoba drivers are going to get insurance rebates in the coming weeks. The provincial government says it's planning to issue cheques with rebates of 11 per cent, worth roughly $150 for the average policy holder.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba premier Brian Pallister, centre, speaks with Ministers Ron Schuler, left, and Jeff Wharton at an emergency COVID-19 physically distanced session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Manitoba drivers are going to get insurance rebates in the coming weeks. The provincial government says it's planning to issue cheques with rebates of 11 per cent, worth roughly $150 for the average policy holder.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government has revealed more financial help related to the COVID-19 pandemic — rebates on auto insurance and a food-delivery program for low-income households with school-age children.

The government has issued a request for proposals for companies that can supply weekly meal packages with easy-to-prepare instructions. The aim is to replace in-school meals and nutrition programs because the pandemic has closed schools since March 20.

"With school being suspended, many children are missing out on the benefits of a nutrition program," Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in a written statement Thursday.

The government aims to supply about 15,000 students with food, but is prepared for that number to rise.

"With pending job losses and wage losses, it is anticipated that the numbers of students that require nutritional supports will grow," reads the request for proposals.

Prospective suppliers have been told to submit their bids by next week. They are to include plans to deliver the food to hubs in different communities, so that the program can be running by May 11.

The government will seek other people, including volunteers and non-profit groups, to get the food from hubs to people's homes.

Also Thursday, Manitoba Public Insurance — the Crown corporation with a monopoly on auto insurance — said it will issue rebate cheques around the end of May.

The rebates, a portion of which require regulatory approval from the Public Utilities Board, would work out to 11 per cent of last year's premiums — between $140 and $160 for the average policyholder, Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said.

Manitoba Public Insurance can afford the rebate because of strong financial returns last year and because accident claims this spring are well below normal, Wharton said.

"Public-health orders directing the public to stay at home, and for non-essential businesses to cease direct interaction with the public, have resulted in fewer claims being incurred."

A group that represents Winnipeg taxi drivers welcomed the move.

"This announcement will provide real relief and help us keep taxis on the road," the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association said in a release. Insurance premiums are the biggest cost facing the industry, it added.

Health officials announced five new COVID-19 cases Thursday. Because the number of people recovering from the novel coronavirus was higher — a trend that has gone on for several days — the number of active cases dropped again, to 82.

The province has been drawing up a plan to gradually ease restrictions on business closures and public gatherings. It has also looked at a plan released Thursday by Saskatchewan that calls for some stores and other businesses to reopen in May.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said Manitoba is eyeing a similar time frame.

"If our numbers remain like this, we're looking towards May as well to be able to start loosening some of the restrictions," he said.

The Progressive Conservative government has passed new regulations that allow conservation officers and some other workers to help police enforce restrictions. They include a 10-person limit on public gatherings and the closure of non-essential businesses such as hair salons and dine-in restaurants.

Roussin said the extra enforcement officers will come in handy when those restrictions are eased.

"As we loosen some of our restrictions, then enforcement becomes a bit more important," he said.

"If we look to lift the restrictions on certain non-essential businesses, they will still be restricted in some manner that will ... allow for social distancing. And so enforcement and oversight is going to be important as we move towards that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2020

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