More than a third of eligible residents in one Winnipeg neighbourhood were receiving federal aid at one point during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal data shows.
The Centennial neighbourhood — which is home to many newcomer residents, including families living with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) — had Manitoba’s highest rate of recipients of the Canada emergency response benefit, according to the data.
In the first week of the program last March, nearly 36 per cent of eligible people in the central Winnipeg neighbourhood received the benefit. By the program’s seventh week, nearly a quarter of the people in Centennial were receiving CERB, the data shows.
“What’s happening with the pandemic was specifically painful for newcomers, as the financial hardships were brought to the immigrant communities and the struggle that they needed to pay for their bills, rent and any other financial obligations,” said Hozan Ibrahim, an IRCOM access-to-benefit navigator.
“They were scared of the uncertainty in the future.”
The Canadian Press received the federal CERB data through an access to information request. It shows the number of active CERB recipients in a given forward sortation area (FSA) — a geographical region where all postal codes start with the same three characters. The CERB data for Manitoba was shared with CBC News.
Population counts from the 2016 census were used to calculate what percentage of people over 15 years old in any given area received the CERB, over the first seven weeks of the program, which began on March 15 of last year.
More than $395 million was sent to Manitoba through CERB at the start of the pandemic, according to the data.
In total, from late March to October of last year, the program — which offered up to $2,000 in financial support over a four-week period — paid out nearly $82 billion to 8.9 million Canadians who saw their incomes plummet after their work hours were reduced, or they lost their jobs altogether.
High rates of CERB recipients in Winnipeg’s core
Thousands of Manitobans received the CERB, but the highest concentration of recipients was mainly in the heart of Winnipeg.
Centennial had the highest rate, followed by the areas with postal codes beginning with R2W (the North End and North Point Douglas), R3B (covering South Point Douglas, the Exchange, Chinatown, downtown, Central Park, Spence and Civic Centre), and R3E (Sargent Park and Daniel McIntyre).
“[The data] paints a picture of the kind of communities that were most impacted economically by COVID,” said Michael Barkman, chairperson of Make Poverty History Manitoba. “Unfortunately that’s low-wage, part-time workers.”
Women and Indigenous and racialized people were also disproportionately impacted, he said.
While there was a drop in CERB recipients in the R3B and R3E areas after the first week, the number of people requiring the federal benefit in Winnipeg’s North End and North Point Douglas remained high.
In the first week of the program, nearly one in every three people in the R2W area received $500 from CERB. By Week 7, that rate dropped to just over one in every five people.
That area also received the most money from the CERB in Winnipeg. Over $19 million was sent to eligible recipients in the R2W zone, the data shows.
Michael Redhead Champagne believes the CERB data should not be used to further stigmatize Winnipeg’s North End, where the pandemic exacerbated already existing socio-economic issues.
“We have to look at our world through a lens of equity. People and families in the North End are not living with access to many of the things that they need to live a healthy life, and CERB provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Champagne.
In his role as chairperson of Fearless R2W, a community organization that helps North End families involved in the child welfare system, Champagne has even seen parents use CERB to reunite with their children.
“I know people who use CERB to try to solve their housing solution so that they could get their kids back,” said Champagne.
“It’s heartbreaking for me to see how hard these parents are working, but it’s also encouraging, because even in the face of a pandemic, those parents are not giving up on their families.”
Northern Manitoba receives most CERB money
The R0B postal code area — which covers most of northern Manitoba, excluding Thompson, The Pas and Flin Flon — has the seventh-highest population of people over the age of 15.
Yet nearly $28.7 million was sent to the R0B area through CERB — more than anywhere else in Manitoba.
The region, with a population of 31,630 people older than 15, had a lower rate of people receiving CERB at the beginning — just under 22 per cent. Over a dozen areas in Winnipeg had higher rates of people receiving CERB in Week 1, the data shows.
But by the fourth week of the program, the R0B area barely surpassed Centennial for the region with the highest rate of CERB recipients at that point, with just over 27 per cent of people receiving the benefit.
In following weeks, the region continued to have the highest rate of people on CERB in Manitoba, at one point reaching 30 per cent. By Week 7, the last week for which there is available data, just over 28 per cent of people in the R0B area were receiving the benefit, the data shows.
Winkler had Manitoba’s lowest CERB rate
Meanwhile, the city of Winkler, about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, had the lowest rate of people receiving CERB in Manitoba, the data shows.
In the first week of the program, about 11 per cent of people in Winkler — 1,620 — received the $500 benefit. The rate dropped into the single digits by Week 2, and continued decreasing to 2.26 per cent by Week 7, according to the data.
Although Winkler’s service, retail and gym industries took a blow throughout the pandemic, the community has a robust manufacturing industry which kept people working, said Mayor Martin Harder.
“I am so proud I can hardly contain myself,” said Harder, adding that he was surprised to learn of Winkler’s low rate of CERB recipients.
“It’s not that we haven’t needed it and it’s not that the businesses aren’t struggling, but we are making it work because, in large part, the community is based on homegrown industries that care.”
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