Phase-out of centrepiece program comes alongside announcement of three new support measures
A few months after Canada’s federal government deployed financial lifelines to support the economy through its COVID-19-driven standstill, some policy experts urged a phase-out of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program as presented many structural problems. Now the government is making that move as it unveils several other support measures to help Canadians get through dire but temporary financial straits.
As explained by Cassandra Da Costa of Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti in a recent article, the federal government has extended the CERB for four more weeks, potentially giving beneficiaries $500 a week for up to 28 weeks. The eligibility period has effectively been stretched to include March 15 until October 4, with individuals allowed to apply for retroactive payments until December 2.
There’s also a transition plan in place for individuals who are currently receiving the CERB and continue to be out of work as the program winds down. Starting on September 27, those individuals will be transitioned into a simplified employment insurance (EI) program.
To help as many Canadians as possible, the federal government has effectively lowered the number of insurable hours required from applicants. It’s giving EI claimants a one-time credit retroactive to March 15, with 300 insurable hours for regular benefits, and 480 insurable hours for special benefits such as sickness, maternity, parental, and compassionate care.
The standard minimum unemployment rate used to determine access to EI benefits has also been set to 13.1% for all economic regions. Aside from allowing individuals to get a minimum entitlement of 26 weeks of regular EI benefits, it also allows the EI program to set a minimum eligibility threshold of 420 insurable hours which, when combined with the one-time hours credit, allows people to qualify for EI benefits with just 120 hours of insurable work.
“Individuals, with new EI claims as of September 27, 2020, will receive a minimum weekly benefit rate of $400 per week or $240 per week for extended parental benefits,” Da Costa said. “The Federal Government is also freezing EI premium rates at the 2020 levels for the next two years.”
Three new federal recovery benefit programs are also set to be introduced via legislation in September. According to an article from Stikeman Elliott, the federal government is proposing a new Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) program that will offer a taxable benefit of $400 per week for up to 26 weeks. This benefit will be limited to workers who are at least 15 years old and are not eligible for EI, have been forced to stop working due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are available for work, are working but have suffered a decline in employment income due to the pandemic, and had employment or self-employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or 2020.
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), meanwhile, provides $500 per week for up to two weeks. It will be made available to workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19, at least 15 years of age, employed or self-employed, and have earned at least $5,000 in employment/self-employment income in 2019 or 2020. Workers would not be allowed to claim CRSB and receive other paid sick leave during the same benefit period.
Finally, the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) will provide $500 weekly for up to 26 weeks per household. To qualify for CRCB, one must be a Canadian resident who is at least 15 years old, have a valid SIN, is employed or self-employed, collected at least $5,000 in employment or self-employment income in 2019 or 2020. The benefit was designed for, and will only be extended to those unable to work because they must care for a minor child under age 12, a family member with a disability, or a dependent for reasons related to COVID-19, including the lack of availability of a caregiver, closures of schools or daycares, and being at high risk if they contract COVID-19, among others.
“These recovery benefits would each be effective from September 27, 2020 and would remain in effect for one year,” the article said.