'Given how many Canadians are in need, making it free was an easy decision for us'
Blue J’s mission is to bring absolute clarity to the law — to make it more transparent and accessible. In the wake of COVID-19, the software company has seized on an opportunity to provide a critical resource that aligns with that mission.
Blue J recently launched a tool, the COVID-19 Relief Programs and Credits Guided Analysis, to help people and businesses determine the programs and credits for which they may be eligible. With many hurting financially and the country’s economy expected to shrink by 6.2 percent this year, helping Canadians more easily access the relief they’re entitled to is important — as is making it free to do so.
“Given how many Canadians are in need, making it free was an easy decision for us,” says Bettina Xue Griffin, Legal Research Associate at Blue J.
Though the federal government is responding with unprecedented relief efforts, accessing available benefits can be challenging — the eligibility criteria for the programs can be very difficult to navigate, Griffin notes.
The tool’s database has an impressive variety of potential relief options, with more than 130 programs ranging from large Federal programs like Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to smaller programs like the Employee Gift Card Program in Prince Edward Island where eligible employees who have been laid off receive a $100 Sobeys gift card.
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“Many provinces and municipalities have unique programs in place to help businesses and workers in addition to the common assistance measures like placing a moratorium on evictions,” Griffin says.
The navigator is simple to use — users fill out a brief questionnaire with the unique facts of their scenario, and the platform analyzes the information provided and identifies the credits and programs for which an individual or business may be eligible. The tool saves time for already busy employers by creating a results page that provides direct links to each program and credit outlining contact information, eligibility criteria, deadlines and links to the application processes.
“We’ve taken time to sort through each program's eligibility criteria and have turned it into an easy to navigate questionnaire,” Griffin says, adding the user can even download the results as a PDF report with all relevant links. “Our research for this software also involved contacting the program directly to obtain additional information.”
The tool is updated on a weekly basis to ensure users can make relevant and timely decisions, as new programs are released and eligibility requirements change frequently. Griffin recommends employers check at least every two weeks to see if there are any additional programs they are now eligible for.
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The real risk for employers beyond missing a program they’re eligible for is wasting time applying to a program they don’t — or don’t yet — meet the qualifying criteria for. There are also a number of programs that run on a first-come, first-serve basis with a pre-determined amount of money set aside for applicants, such as the Programme actions concertées pour le maintien en emploi (PACME) in Quebec. Once the fund is used up, the applications close.
“If you don't have your ducks in a row and have all the necessary paperwork and understanding of the eligibility criteria, you might miss the important window of time to apply for the program,” Griffin says. “For an application to be denied because of missing information can set an organization back by weeks.”
Although this particular tool was created specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t long before Blue J saw its value beyond the current crisis. Many of the programs in the database — for example, the Federal Work Sharing Program that helps employers and employees avoid layoffs due to situations outside of the employer's control by providing EI benefit to employees who agree to reduce their hours in order to share the work — existed before the virus and will likely carry on beyond the pandemic. In line with its commitment to clarify the law, Blue J will continue to add relevant programs as time goes on — making it a useful future tool, Griffin says.
“We hope the navigator will help employers, employees and families by providing a one-stop comprehensive platform to navigate through the numerous assistance programs that exist.”