Of all the many financial relief programs introduced by the federal government to address the economic impact of the pandemic, probably none has had a bigger impact than the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB). As of August 16, nearly 9 million Canadians had applied for and received payments under the CERB program, and the program had paid out just over $70 billion.
As the country emerges from the near complete economic lockdown which was in effect in the spring, the current financial situation of those who received CERB benefits will vary widely. Some may be back at work and earning the same income as they did pre-pandemic. Others may be back at work with reduced hours and, consequently, reduced income. Still others may still be waiting for their employer to call them back to work and some, unfortunately, may have worked for businesses which will never re-open.
Given the sheer number of CERB recipients, the economic impact of the termination of the CERB program on October 3, 2020 will be significant. In recognition of that fact, the federal government has announced three new programs intended to allow Canadians to transition from CERB. In addition, changes will be made to the Employment Insurance (EI) program which will make it easier for individuals to receive EI benefits.
The three new programs will allow Canadians whose income loss resulting from the pandemic continues to claim benefits, within prescribed limits, up until September 27, 2021. The particular program under which an individual may qualify depends on his or her particular circumstances — the programs and the qualifying criteria, as outlined on the federal government website, are summarized below.
Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB)
The CRB will provide $400 per week for up to 26 weeks to individuals who are self-employed or who are otherwise not eligible for EI and who still require income support, if they are available for and looking for work.
The CRB benefit would be available to Canadian residents who:
- are at least 15 years old and have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN);
- have stopped working due to the pandemic and are available and looking for work, or are working but have had a reduction in their employment or self-employment income for pandemic-related reasons;
- are not eligible for Employment Insurance;
- had employment and/or self-employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in 2020; and,
- have not quit their job voluntarily.
There is provision for a clawback of CRB benefits received where the income of a recipient (excluding CRB payments) is greater than $38,000. In such circumstances, the recipient will be required to repay 50 cents of the benefit for each dollar of their annual net income above $38,000 in the calendar year, to a maximum of the amount of benefit they received.
The CRB would be payable (subject to the weekly maximum claim period of 26 weeks) until September 27, 2021.
Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB)
As the name implies, the CRSB will be paid to individuals who must quarantine or self-isolate for two weeks for pandemic-related reasons. The benefit will be $500 per week for that two-week period.
To qualify for the benefit, an individual must:
- be a Canadian resident who is at least 15 years of age and has a valid SIN;
- be employed or self-employed at the time of the application; and
- have earned at least $5,000 in 2019 or in 2020.
Like the CRB, the CRSB will be paid (for a maximum two-week period) anytime before September 27, 2021.
Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB)
Once again, the name is self-explanatory. The CRCB will provide $500 per week, for up to 26 weeks, per household to eligible Canadians whose work availability has been reduced by at least 60% resulting from the need to provide caregiving services to their children or to disabled family members. The CRCB recognizes that the upcoming school year will look very different and that grade school children who would normally attend school on a full day, every day basis may well have a different schedule for pandemic-related reasons.
In order to be eligible for the CRCB, an individual must:
- reside in Canada;
- be at least 15 years of age on the first day of the benefit period for which they are applying;
- have a valid Social Insurance Number;
- be employed or self-employed on the day before the start of the benefit period;
- have earned at least $5,000 in 2019 or in 2020;
- have been unable to work for at least 60% of their normally scheduled work within a given week because they must take care of a child who is under 12 years of age on the first day of the benefit period because that child’s school or daycare is closed or operates under an alternative schedule for reasons related to the pandemic, or where that child cannot attend school or day care due to medical risks, or because the child’s usual caregiver is not available for pandemic related reasons;
- have been unable to work for at least 60% of their normally scheduled work within a given week because they are providing care to a family member with a disability or dependent because the dependent’s day program or care facility is closed or operates under an alternative schedule for reasons related to COVID-19, or the dependent cannot attend their day program or care facility due to medical risks, or because the dependant’s usual caregiver is not available for pandemic-related reasons;
- not be in receipt of paid leave from an employer in respect of the same week; and
- not be in receipt of the CERB, the EI Emergency Response Benefit, the CRB, the CRSB, short-term disability benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, or any EI benefits or Quebec Parental Insurance Plan benefits in respect of the same week.
In some cases, individuals who have lost jobs or had their income reduced as the result of the pandemic can qualify for Employment Insurance benefits. However, the EI system has very specific requirements and those requirements have the potential to exclude large numbers of workers, including those who were working part-time or on a short-term contract, or who live in areas of low unemployment. The changes which will be made to the EI system will provide greater flexibility and consequently allow more individuals to qualify for EI benefits.
Generally speaking, in order to qualify for EI benefits, an individual must have worked for a specified number of hours within a prescribed time frame (the qualifying period). The number of hours required depends on the unemployment rate in the location where the individual lives and, where the local unemployment rate is lower, the number of work hours required to qualify for EI increases. Finally, the amount of EI benefit which may be received is calculated as a percentage of weekly earnings received during the qualifying period. In order to ensure that EI benefits can be claimed by more Canadians, and that greater benefits can be received, the following changes will be made.
- The minimum unemployment rate for purposes of the EI program will be set at 13.1% in all locations, effective as of August 9, 2020; and
- Canadians who have at least 120 hours of insurable work will be able to qualify for EI benefits, as they will be provided with a temporary, one-time credit of:
- 300 insurable hours for those claiming EI regular benefits
- 480 insurable hours for those claiming EI special benefits (maternity, parental, sickness, compassionate care, and family).
Under the new rules, individuals who qualify for EI benefits will receive a minimum benefit of $400 per week in regular benefits and $240 per week for extended parental benefits.
The federal government’s intention is that individuals who need financial support as the result of a pandemic-related loss of income should turn first to the Employment Insurance program. Where EI benefits are not available to them, they may be eligible for one of the three new programs — the CRB, the CRSB, and the CCRB — which can provide a comparable level of financial support. It is important as well for recipients of any of these benefits, or of EI, to recognize that all such income received is taxable income, which must be reported as income on the tax return filed for the year in which it is received.
More detailed information on each of these programs, and the changes to the EI system is available on the federal government website at https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html#individuals.