Edeline Agoncillo is pictured in Edmonton on Saturday October 24, 2020. Agoncillo has been under a lot of pressure during the pandemic, working when she can and collecting CERB, but still needs to send money back to family in the Philippines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Edeline Agoncillo is pictured in Edmonton on Saturday October 24, 2020. Agoncillo has been under a lot of pressure during the pandemic, working when she can and collecting CERB, but still needs to send money back to family in the Philippines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

CERB, extra hours and bottle returns: supporting overseas family during the pandemic

Canadian incomes have also fallen, putting those helping relatives abroad in a tight spot

Edeline Agoncillo sends up to $1,400 of her wages to the Philippines every month and keeps only a few hundred dollars for herself, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money Agoncillo sends without fail — a remittance, it’s called — ordinarily comes from cleaning houses in Edmonton. It supports her elderly parents, her daughter, her son and his child.

During the pandemic, as work dried up, she drew on the federal government’s $500-a-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit to support not only herself, but also her family across the Pacific.

“They have to eat every day; the medication of my parents has to continue every day, and nobody sent their money, just me,” Agoncillo said.

The Agoncillo family is like many in the Philippines, where one in 10 households relies on a relative overseas. Remittances are a huge part of the global economy, exceeding foreign direct investment in low- and middle-income countries for the first time last year.

But then the pandemic struck and The World Bank made a gloomy prediction in April that these transfers would plummet by 20 per cent this year because of COVID-19.

Migrants often give more when their home countries are in crisis. But with the pandemic pummelling economies everywhere, economists thought the flow of money would slow down. Initially it did, but remittances largely recovered by the middle of the year.

People may be earning less, but they are still sending money home.

“We don’t really have a choice,” said Marjorie Villefranche, director of Maison d’Haïti in Montreal, describing the responsibility of the diaspora to send money back to Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries.

Agoncillo was scared to work when the pandemic started, and families didn’t want her to clean their homes. When she does work, she asks her clients for their deposit-return bottles to make an extra $30 to $40 a week.

She has been sending her parents about 30 per cent more each month since March, because one of her sisters, who is jobless in Dubai, can no longer help. Agoncillo can manage because she lives with two others and she spends as little as possible on herself.

“I’m very deprived,” she said. She asks only that her family pray for her.

Remittances sent from Canada amounted to more than $36 billion in 2018, based on data compiled by the Canadian International Development Platform. Four out of every 10 Canadian residents born in a developing country support loved ones overseas, according to Statistics Canada research.

Pressure to send money has increased during the pandemic as governments worldwide imposed crippling lockdowns, many without emergency relief programs that wealthy countries such as Canada offered.

Canadian incomes have also fallen, putting those helping relatives abroad in a tight spot.

Some migrants dip into meagre savings to find money, said Ethel Tungohan, a professor who studies migrant labour at York University in Toronto. Remittances are “not just an economic contribution, but a sign of love and care,” Tungohan said.

Visible minorities are primary senders of remittances, government data shows, even though they have experienced more unemployment due to COVID-19 than other Canadians. The August Labour Force Survey found that approximately one-third of Filipino and Latin American families, as well as more than one in four Black households, were struggling financially.

Financial support from the government has also played a role in sustaining remittances. The CERB was a lifeline for Agoncillo, and thus her family in the Philippines, for five months.

The Haitian community has also benefited from government support. Haiti depends on its diaspora: remittances in 2019 amounted to 37 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Canada is the third-largest source of funds.

Federal pandemic programs eased the pressure on Haitian-Canadians, Villefranche said.

Not all migrant workers qualify for government support. Marco Luciano, the director of Migrante Alberta, a Filipino migrant advocacy organization, points out that undocumented migrants can’t access federal benefits and have taken on extra jobs.

“They had two jobs. Now they have three jobs. And many of them are unstable jobs because of the shutdown,” said Luciano.

Because of migrants’ efforts, the Philippines and Haiti have registered only modest decreases in money transferred. The Philippines, which received $1.35 billion from Canada in 2019, reported a decline of only 6.6 per cent between January and August. Remittances bounced back in June.

Data is similar for Haiti. Transfers from Canada have decreased by only four per cent during the pandemic, according to economist Manuel Orozco of Creative Associates International, a Washington-based international development organization.

Agoncillo requested more hours from her employer when the CERB ended in September. But then she was exposed to COVID-19 when cleaning the house of a client who subsequently tested positive. Her results came back negative, but under Alberta’s public health guidelines, she still had to stay away from work for 14 days.

Agoncillo says the experience has been stressful: “I need my job. I need my job.”

———

Bryony Lau is an independent researcher on conflict in Southeast Asia. She is currently a fellow in global journalism at the University of Toronto.

Bryony Lau, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read