How do I get my $500? Answers to your questions about the Quebec budget

On Tuesday, the Caquiste government of Quebec Premier François Legault unveiled its fourth budget, the last before the fall elections.

The 470-page juggernaut is packed full of facts and figures. But as the cost of rent, groceries and gas continue to climb across the province, the big question for many is: what’s in it for me?

Here’s a breakdown of budget highlights, starting with the big news: a $500 payout for about 6.4 million people.

How will this $500 document work?

The government has announced a one-time lump sum payment for every Quebecer who earns $100,000 or less.

If you qualify, you’ll automatically receive the $500, provided you file your 2021 tax return. If your income is $100,000 or less, you’ll receive the full $500, no questions asked.

If you earn less than $105,000, you are in a buffer zone. You will still get money, but not the full $500.

If you win more than $105,000 you are not eligible.

It’s per person, not per household, so a couple who each earn less than $100,000 would receive $1,000 between them.

However, if you owe the government money during tax season, the $500 can be used to pay off what you owe. (Sorry, freelancers.)

Of course, if you don’t file your taxes this year, you won’t see it. This means that the most vulnerable Quebecers, such as those experiencing homelessness, may not receive their share of the money.

And be careful not to fall into the trap of counterfeits: the CAQ tweeted on Tuesday evening that scammers were already targeting Quebecers, sending fraudulent texts that make it look like people have to click on a link to receive their payments of 500 $.

If you receive this SMS, it is a scam. Do not click on this link.

I can’t afford a house and my rent is high. Is there anything to help me?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: there is money to create affordable housing and subsidize rents, but it is way below what housing groups say the province needs.

For example, the budget provided $100 million to build an additional 1,000 affordable housing units over five years across the province.

But the Union of Municipalities of Quebec (UMQ) said the province needed 13,400 more affordable housing units, more than 13 times what the government has announced. (The UMQ has also requested 4,500 additional social housing units.)

There is also money for rent subsidies, a total of $69 million over the next five years, but it will not be available to most Quebecers. The program targets people in crisis, such as homeless people or women fleeing domestic violence.

Here’s how the subsidy works: you must first apply to your local municipal housing office. If you are accepted, you will only have to pay 25% of your household income in rent. The government would cover the difference between this amount and your actual rent, for up to five years.

This program is not new. Nearly 42,000 of these subsidized households already exist. The 2022-23 budget only provides subsidies to another 2,200 households in the province.

As for buying property, the budget notes that after peaking in 2021, home ownership will remain restricted, due to high prices and a rise in interest rates. However, there is nothing in the budget to address this problem.

What about gas prices? What if I want to switch to an electric vehicle?

The high gas prices of the past few weeks have put a strain on Quebecers’ finances. This photo was taken at a Montreal gas station on March 8, 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

If you were hoping to pay less at the pump, you’re going to be disappointed: there’s no provincial gas tax reduction.

If you want to go completely gasless and buy an electric vehicle, the province still offers a rebate, but it’s lower than it used to be.

For example, you used to get $8,000 back on a new electric vehicle. On April 1, that drops to $7,000.

It’s worse for new plug-in hybrids: You used to get $8,000 back, but now it’s only $5,000.

The government said it had reduced the rebate because electric cars, which are increasingly popular, are cheaper than before.

If you take public transport, there’s not much for you either. There are no discounts for the cost of a monthly pass, for example.

The provincial and federal governments are jointly injecting an additional $393 million to support the province’s transit agencies as they recover from the pandemic over the next year, but it’s unclear whether savings will be passed on to users.

Are we finally fixing the healthcare system?

With regard to the health care system in general, there are not many details in the budget.

This is because a system overhaul East to come, but that won’t be announced by the Department of Health until later, so where that money goes is a bit of a mystery for now.

For context, there must be an annual increase in spending of about 5% just to maintain the current level of service in the health care system. The government is investing 6.3% more this year. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For context, there must be an annual increase in spending of about 5% just to maintain the current level of service in the health care system. The government is investing 6.3% more this year.

But that won’t last: over the next few years, it will drop to 4.5% per year.

Finance Minister Eric Girard argued that this increase will always mean more money overall, since the government is currently increasing total funding for the system. (Basically, it’s a smaller percentage of a bigger cake.)

There is money set aside for specific programs, however. For example, $21 million is earmarked to establish 15 COVID-19 clinics over the next three years.

The government is also adding $72 million over the next five years to fund assisted reproduction programs, such as in vitro fertilization or IVF.

Is the government helping seniors or addressing the long-term care crisis?

The government has allocated more money to home care and long-term care homes.

For seniors living in apartment buildings, the maximum rent eligible for the home care tax credit doubles, from $600 to $1,200.

If you use home services — like hiring someone to help an elderly relative with dementia, for example — the government also extends the tax credit for that. Previously, this only covered 35% of the costs.

It will now increase by 1% each year, reaching 40% in 2026.

Meanwhile, for those who cannot stay at home, the government is setting aside $1.5 billion to open new homes for the aged and other types of residential care.

As for the CHSLDs, the budget specifies that the pandemic has revealed “several problems in the residential environment, in particular in the private CHSLDs not under agreement”.

There will be an additional $129 million to bring their services more in line with the public system’s standard of care.

Wait! What if there was another wave of COVID-19?

The government has set aside $1.7 billion in case the “epidemiological situation changes” over the coming year, but would need Treasury Board approval to use it.

This money includes funding for another vaccination campaign, in case we all need another dose. There is also money to buy more home tests and expand hospital capacity as needed.

There’s also a separate $48 million set aside for “deploying prevention and public health initiatives,” including to better respond to future pandemics.