UPDATE – Expanded CERB still does not go far enough

Since our post on the introduction of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) (which you can read here), the federal government has announced changes to the program to address some of the identified gaps in eligibility. Based on these most recent changes, many more individuals should qualify to receive the CERB. This post will outline who is now eligible, and who is still left out, of this important benefit.

What is the CERB?

The CERB is a benefit to replace income lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a flat, taxable amount for all eligible claimants: $2,000 for every four weeks you are eligible, up to a maximum of 16 weeks, between March 15 (retroactive) and October 3, 2020.

What has stayed the same?

To qualify for the CERB, you still need to be a resident of Canada of at least 15 years of age, and must have had at least $5,000 in income from work (employment or self-employment), EI maternity or parental benefits, or Quebec’s parental benefits program QPIP in the last year. These requirements have not changed with the expansion of the program.

What has changed?

Some of the eligibility criteria have been expanded, to allow more individuals to qualify for the CERB:

  • You are no longer required to have had NO income from employment, self-employment, any EI or QPIP benefit for at least 14 days in a row. Instead, you can qualify for the CERB if you earned less than $1,000 in an eligibility period (that period is at least 14 days in a row if you are applying for the first time, and 4 weeks if you are applying again for a subsequent period).
  • You can also qualify for the CERB if you are a seasonal worker who has exhausted your regular EI benefits, and are unable to undertake your seasonal work due to COVID-19. You must have received EI benefits for at least one week since December 29, 2019.
  • Finally, you may qualify for the CERB if you have recently exhausted your regular EI benefits, and are unable to find work due to COVID-19. Again, you must have received EI benefits for at least one week since December 29, 2019.

These changes are retroactive to March 15.

Who is still left out?

The expansion of the CERB is welcome news, but, unfortunately, even the expanded version of this program still contains gaps that will leave many Canadians without access to this benefit.

Workers making $1,000 – $2,000 per month

One of the most important and much-needed changes to this program was to expand it to include workers who had experienced a significant reduction in hours, but who were still earning some income. Workers can now earn up to $1,000 per month and still access the CERB.

However, there is still an obvious gap in the program’s design—there are many workers who will be earning less from their employment than the value of the CERB, and yet they continue to be excluded from this benefit. It is unclear why the government did not expand access to all workers making less than the value of the CERB ($2,000 every four weeks), and simply deduct any amounts earned from the benefit.

Students seeking summer employment

As noted in our previous post, many students who were counting on employment during the summer months will not be able to find jobs due to the pandemic. However, because they did not lose a current source of income, they will not qualify for CERB, and most of them are unlikely to have been receiving EI regular benefits recently. Students who are about to graduate and were about to enter the job market will not have access to this benefit.

The government has reiterated that more help may be on the way for students, but no specifics have been provided so far.

Workers who have been unemployed for a long period

The benefit has been extended to anyone who has exhausted their EI regular benefits, only if they have received at least one week of EI benefits after December 29, 2019. Therefore, any unemployed workers who ran out of EI benefits before that time are still ineligible for the CERB.

Is it time for a universal benefit?

The most recent changes to the CERB will be met with criticism and questions about who continues to be left behind, in response to which the government will in all likelihood tweak the program further. Instead of the current piecemeal, incremental approach, many have called on the government to simply grant a $2,000 per month benefit to all Canadians, and reclaim it from those who did not need it through taxes next year. It remains to be seen whether this view will gain any traction within the government.

Updated information about the CERB and how to apply can be found here.

[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without an assessment of your individual circumstances.]



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