As the COVID-19 pandemic takes a dramatic toll on Canadians, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) advocates for post-secondary students. CASA ensures that the federal government safeguards the financial needs and well-being of post-secondary students during this unprecedented time.
“The biggest priority for us through this entire pandemic, through this entire crisis, has been first of all making sure that students had the money and income to pay for their rent and their groceries. Especially for the summer, it was becoming more and more evident that the economic impact was going to be quite severe as provinces started to go into lockdown. We realized the likelihood of students finding the jobs they would normally rely on during the summer was not going to be near what it had been in past years,” said the Chair of CASA, Adam Brown.
CASA was immediately concerned about the increasing financial stress post-secondary students experienced as summer jobs dwindled.
“We started to strategize around what sort of supports we would need from the federal government, recognizing that different provinces were starting to do different things [to combat the COVID-19 pandemic]. First, we advocated to the federal government for the pause on student loan repayments, which they did [extend it to] six months which was more than what we had expected,” said Brown.
In addition to extending student loan payments, CASA recommended that the federal government provide grants and summer job opportunities for students. CASA advocated for a variety of financial relief programs, such as the Canadain Emergency Student Benefit (CESB).
“The Prime Minister made the announcement about the Canada Summer Jobs Program and then after we made the pushes on topics such as having a student-specific stream of CERB or something like that. [CASA] pushed for upfront grants and having a focus on international students,” said Brown.
The financial aid CASA has advocated for is more impactful than just helping students pay for their expenses. CASA hopes by advocating for federal financial support post-secondary students will be alleviated from some of the stress associated with financial hardships.
“When we think of mental health in the context of COVID-19, you have the isolation that comes from everyone having to do more social distancing. But you also have the financial pressures that can create a lot of stress and have an impact on students. It is important that as provinces reopen the economies and those sorts of things we find ways to reduce financial pressures that could lead to greater health [risks],” said Brown.
As the upcoming fall term poses a lot of uncertainty, CASA will continue to advocate for federal safety nets and support to ensure post-secondary students can continue their studies.
“For us the important thing is to make sure that students have the financial support to continue the studies in the fall, be it in terms of student financial aid which a lot of these grant increases have done. But also in terms of mental health supports and how the federal government can be helping students who are maybe still facing isolation, especially if they are taking online courses and are not around their friends and colleagues. The other thing is international students, making sure they can get into Canada, especially if they are attending post-secondaries that are more likely to be doing things in person than online,” said Brown.
Brown asks that post-secondary students voice their concerns towards the federal government’s aid so that CASA can continue to effectively advocate for them.
“Everything is happening very quickly right now and sometimes things can slip through the cracks. It is our job to make sure that we are working with the federal government to point out where some of those cracks might be, where students could be falling through and sort of plugging the holes,” said Brown. “The more stories we can collect, the more context we can get from students on the ground the better it informs our advocacy.”