For the many Canadians without work due to COVID-19 who are struggling to put food on the table, a broad federal assistance program will provide some relief come Monday.
People laid off due to forced business closures or who became sick with COVID-19 will be able to access the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) starting April 6.
The program will provide $2,000 per month of taxable income for up to 16 weeks, and cash will be automatically deposited into Canadians bank accounts within three days of applying. On Wednesday, federal finance minister Bill Morneau said he anticipates the cost of CERB to be $24 billion.
St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper said he has received more contact from constituents than ever before, with people seeking answers on how to apply for unemployment benefits. On a daily basis, he said his office is receiving roughly 50 emails and 25 phone calls.
“The volume of inquiries from constituents seeking help is at a level that we've never seen before in the last four and a half years that I've been a member of Parliament, not surprisingly,” Cooper said.
Anyone who qualifies for federal employment insurance (EI) and who applied after March 15 will automatically be put in the queue for CERB, Cooper said. EI will essentially be “rolled into CERB,” he added.
The CERB webpage says anyone who has stopped work due to COVID-19 – whether they qualify for EI or not – should apply for funding under CERB.
Burning questions at the top of most constituents’ minds so far have been if they qualify for the relief package, and when the cash will flow.
Do I qualify? What is the process?
Once applications for CERB open April 6, they will be processed through the Canada Revenue Agency website, or through an automated telephone service (1-800-959-2019).
For online applications, the first step is ensuring you have set up your CRA My Account, which can be done before the portal opens up on Monday. Also, check that you have direct deposit enabled to get payments as soon as possible.
The government has also set up guidelines for applications to be done on varying days according to birth month in order to handle high application volumes, with the first three months of the year designated to apply first on April 6.
People qualify for CERB if they have entirely stopped working due to COVID-19, earned at least $5,000 in 2019 and expect to be without employment for at least 14 consecutive days.
Applicants will qualify if their work has let them go, or reduced their work hours to zero, are in quarantine or sick due to COVID-19, are caring for someone who has the virus, or if they are now responsible for childcare due circumstances related to COVID-19.
After applying, if you have set up direct deposit, funds should appear in your bank account within three days. If getting payments by cheque, it can be expected within 10 days.
Cooper said in an “unprecedented time” it is key to get cash out to individuals and small businesses “as quickly as possible.”
He added CERB differs from EI in that anyone who works any number of hours would become ineligible for CERB funding, which he said “penalizes people who might be trying to do the right thing and get back to work.”
In addition to the federal relief measure, the Alberta government is providing one-time payments of $1,146 to those required to self-isolate, or are supporting someone in quarantine, and experience a significant or total loss of income.
Support for small businesses
With small businesses being “particularly hard hit,” Cooper said the Canadian government will now be offering a 75-per-cent wage subsidy for businesses of all sizes.
That is an about-turn from the Liberals’ initially proposed 10-per-cent subsidy, which Cooper said “amounted to tokens.”
The Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS) is intended to help keep companies afloat and employees paid, so less people apply for CERB or EI. The subsidy will be retroactive to March 15 and run for 12 weeks, the cost of which is anticipated to be $71 billion.
Cooper noted concerns with the program, calling it “a work in progress.”
“What is key are the details in how this program is administered and my concern is while a wage subsidy is absolutely the right thing to do, and 75 per cent is a good, generous amount, I'm concerned that it may come too late and the process to qualify may be too cumbersome and exclude businesses who should otherwise qualify,” he said.
Businesses must prove they have lost at least 30 per cent of their revenue due to COVID-19. Money is expected to flow in the coming three to six weeks.
As events are unfolding rapidly, check the CRA website for updates in advance of CERB applications opening April 6: www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application.html.