October 2 COVID-19 Update
Message from Andrea Hesse, CEO
This message includes:

  • Federal benefits: Bill C-4 passed today; service providers are encouraged to explore federal benefits

  • Updates on ACDS' work: Service Provider Partnership Council; data sharing; ACDS Board and committee updates
We’ve now moved into fall, and although each day seems to bring new challenges, I know many of you have found ways to normalize and create routines within this new reality to support staff and individuals and move forward. The resilience, innovation and commitment of community disability service providers and staff has been amazing. 
I know that we have now reached the point where the weariness and fatigue of this situation is impacting you and your staff, with little relief or opportunities for breaks. Consequently, some of you are facing staffing challenges, in addition to staffing shortages due to self-isolation and other COVID-related absences. Others are facing the need to address permanent layoffs as you reach the 180-day threshold.  
 All of this will potentially have significant impacts on the workforce for many years.   
Accessing Federal Programs 
There are several federal programs currently available and being developed to assist with some of these challenges. Although it is difficult for ACDS to offer universal advice for service providers regarding these programs, given the diversity in situations and structures of organizations, please explore any options available to you. In particular, I encourage you to explore access to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and federal sickness benefits, to reduce layoff needs and costs related to sickness. These federal benefits will prevent employees from accessing employer provided sick days. As well, it will prevent employees coming to work, who may otherwise be reluctant to stay at home when sick due to income considerations. 
It is challenging for ACDS to advocate to the provincial government to address all COVID-related costs, given the federal programs currently available addressing these. We encourage service providers to access federal programs, where possible, allowing us to advocate for other key PDD funding during this time of budget pressures. 

Bill C-4, which replaces the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), was passed by the senate today. The bill includes the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), which was created to ensure all Canadian workers have access to paid sick leave. Employees forced to isolate due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive CRSB for a maximum of 2 weeks.  
In addition to accessing federal benefits, I encourage you to work together with other service providers or regionally, to facilitate connections between staff who are being laid off and to support staffing needs in other organizations, reducing retention issues across the sector. 
From the onset of this pandemic, we have seen service providers collaborate in creative ways to address some of the challenges, including staffing challenges, that have arisen due to the pandemic. We are proud of the sector’s work to continue to provide quality services to individuals, despite all the challenges we are facing. 
To showcase and celebrate this work, we are initiating a social media campaign to profile some of the great work in the sector, along with promoting some key facts about the sector. More details about the #QualityCDS campaign will be shared next week, including the ways in which you can get involved. 
Some Updates on ACDS’ Work 
Advocacy and the Service Provider Partnership Committee 

The pre-existing budget challenges and sustainability issues have created the backdrop to the current pandemic crisis in PDD. This has meant that the need to respond and track COVID-related expenses and identify capacity in current contracts, while concurrently tracking in-year budget forecasts on a monthly basis, has conflated these two processes and complicated communication and information requests between services providers and Community and Social Services (CSS). New or enhanced services continue to be focused on “critical and urgent” situations.   
The Service Provider Partnership Committee (SPPC) has continued to meet and address both COVID-related challenges as well as broader PDD program needs and processes. The Contract Working Group has resumed to address reported inconsistencies and issues in the handling of vacancies and some outstanding invoicing issues. Additional information should be available shortly. The Red Tape Reduction Working Group is also continuing to identify opportunities to streamline processes, including reporting. Work is also underway to both identify and acknowledge innovative COVID responses and learnings.   
As you are aware, all government programs are currently under review. It remains critical that we move forward to address key outstanding sustainability and other needs in the PDD program as identified through numerous past consultations, including the PDD Review, to move current obstacles and barriers to service for those not meeting the current critical and urgent criteria. 
Both ACDS and the SPPC have been engaged with CSS and have provided some initial feedback to inform a process that will occur later this fall to move key issues forward in PDD. Although details are not yet available, we believe there will be opportunities for service providers to participate and we will be engaging our members in providing key feedback and consultation. I will share additional information as soon as it is available. 
Data sharing 

Data and information sharing has been a critical area of advocacy for ACDS and we are pleased that additional program data is now available on Open Data, including caseload data by program and region. 

Additional data sharing is planned for release in the coming months. 
Other updates 

Clay Buchanan joined CSS in mid September as the ADM for the Policy Program and Improvement Division at CSS (this was formerly John Stinson’s role). I have had the opportunity to meet with Clay and share key issues and recommendations on behalf of ACDS and our members, and we look forward to working with Clay on the SPPC. 
We are pleased to announce that Janice Gerbrandt has joined our Board of Directors. Janice brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as a multi-regional perspective that we know will be very valuable to ACDS. James Woodall has retired from the Board of Directors and we want to thank James for his contributions to the Board. We will miss James and wish him well.
The ACDS Government Relations Committee and ACDS Human Resources Coordinating Committee have recommenced their work and new members have been recruited to these committees where regional vacancies existed. Please watch for updates from ACDS and regional representatives on this work.
ACDS COVID-19 Contact Email
Service provider input and engagement is critical to helping ACDS advocate on behalf of the sector. Service providers can report their issues, concerns and questions to our dedicated email, and a member of the ACDS Leadership team will respond:
Follow us on social media for more updates

Alberta Council of Disability Services