WINNIPEG -- A new wage support program will provide $35 million for Manitobans who work with vulnerable people, including workers at care homes and homeless shelters.

Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced a caregiver wage support program on Friday, which will be provided to people who work at personal care homes, homeless shelters, help with children in care and assist people with disabilities.

Health-care aides, housekeeping staff, recreation workers, and direct service workers are eligible. The employees who apply will receive an hourly $5 top-up to their wages, based on the number of hours worked between Nov. 1, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021.

Two intake periods will close on Dec. 14, 2020, and Jan. 18, 2021.

The province said the benefit will be paid directly to workers in the week after each intake period closes.

To qualify, workers must earn a regular wage of $25 per hour or less.

The program comes as the health-care workforce is stretched thin due to COVID-19 cases.

Most workers at personal and long-term care homes make between $12 and $15 an hour, says Shannon McAteer, Manitoba health care coordinator for Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

"That's not even a living wage so five dollars an hour is making a huge impact," said McAteer, "Especially when they're working so hard and very stressed out emotionally and physically."

Disability service agencies are also coping with the virus.

Sixteen community living disability service agencies have reported positive COVID-19 cases and most of the positive cases are among shift workers, says Abilities Manitoba, an agency that oversees services for Manitobans with intellectual disabilities.

"This segment of employees in our work has been fragile, to say the least," said Margo Powell, executive director of Abilities Manitoba. "We're super grateful the value of their work is being acknowledged."

But both Powell and McAteer say that some workers are being left out of the program: those that work directly at a person's home and outside of group care settings.

"We would desperately like to see better wages across all service types," said Powell. "It's definitely needed to maintain ensure high-quality supports."

Application information can be found here.