WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is allowing people affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19 to defer some utility payments and property taxes without interest or penalties, but a labour organization says the measures fall short.

The six-month deferral on utilities is to apply to Crown-owned hydroelectric, natural gas and auto insurance agencies.

"This program is designed to give relief to those who need it most," Premier Brian Pallister said Friday.

The same penalty-free period is to apply to Workers' Compensation Board premiums.

Pallister said he is also working with municipalities so that interest and penalties are not charged for six months on provincial education property tax and school division fees.

The province is moving up a promise to remove the provincial sales tax from home and business property insurance. The tax cut was to take effect sometime next year, but is to be implemented July 1.

The province also said Friday that COVID-19 numbers continue to climb.

Health officials said a second person has died, and 15 more people have tested positive for a total of 182.

Nine people are currently in hospital, six of whom are intensive care.

Meanwhile, the Manitoba Federation of Labour said the Progressive Conservative government is still refusing to provide direct financial aid, whereas provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia have offered one-time cash payments to people affected by the pandemic.

"Manitoba is still the only province that is not offering emergency income supports to workers who have lost their paycheques," federation president Kevin Rebeck said in a written statement.

The Manitoba government also announced funding Friday for 140 new beds at homeless shelters, as well as a repurposing of a vacant public housing building to allow for social distancing among shelter users.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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