The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Early figures for new aid and EI provide glimpse of how post-CERB supports to be used

The CERB ceased to exist on Oct. 3, although people can still retroactively apply for CERB payments

The employment insurance system absorbed almost 1.3 million people in the last three weeks, new figures show, as a key COVID-19 benefit wound down.

A breakdown of applications for the simplified EI program shows that overall there had been more than 1.5 million claims as of late this past week, among them 1.15 million people who were automatically transferred when their emergency benefit ran out.

The figures are enormous for a system that in one day this month handled 246,000-plus claims. In the spring, officials worried the 87,000 applications on one March day would make the decades-old system burst its seams.

Figures obtained by The Canadian Press also show that more than 84 per cent of applications had been processed, which experts who reviewed the numbers noted was a positive sign for the transition off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, better known as the CERB.

Couple that with the more than 300,000 people who turned to a suite of new benefits on the first day they were available, and the figures provide a hint at the ongoing need for income support even as employment has picked up.

Figures on claims can be “valuable in providing a partial, real-time assessment” of the impact COVID-19 has on the labour force, officials wrote to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough in April.

At the time, they were writing in a briefing note about providing regular updates on CERB recipients and payments as “the labour market landscape continues to evolve across the country.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

The CERB ceased to exist on Oct. 3, although people can still retroactively apply for CERB payments until Dec. 2. The government expected up to four million people would use the revamped EI and three additional benefits for those not EI-eligible.

READ MORE: Canadians with COVID-19 or caring for those with it can apply for federal money

Up to 2.8 million people would need EI, based on internal projections from the department that oversees the program. About one million more would likely need the three new benefits.

On the first day it was available this past week, 240,640 people applied for the Canada Recovery Benefit. By that same Monday, a further 107,150 applied for a caregiving benefit and 58,560 applied for the new two-week sickness benefit, both of which had opened for applications the previous week.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. Its senior economist David Macdonald said the vastly higher number suggests some EI-eligible workers may have found it easier to apply for the sickness benefit.

“There will be plenty of honest confusion among people as to where they might apply next, and they might take the path of least resistance, which is going to be these (recovery) programs,” said Macdonald, who has closely tracked aid figures.

Mikal Skuterud, a professor and labour economist at the University of Waterloo, said there may also be people who are EI-eligible but apply for the CRB because of other differences in the programs, such as how quickly benefits are clawed back, how long they last, and how much tax is taken off at the source of payments.

“There are some big issues there, but that’s kind of unfair to criticize the government because designing these kinds of income-support programs for self-employed people is a quagmire,” he said.

The first EI payments went out this week, with just over 84 per cent of applicants receiving benefits, a figure experts noted as positive.

The labour market has recouped about 2.3 million of the three million jobs lost when the pandemic first struck. A new round of restrictions amid rising COVID-19 case counts threatens some of those gains.

Given the unknown future path of COVID-19, Scotiabank senior economist Marc Desormeaux said the government will have to be very careful about when it winds down the pandemic benefits.

Ending programs too soon could lead to weak business results as fewer people have money to spend, leading to potential bankruptcies or closures, creating job losses and making employment weak anew.

“We want to try and recover more quickly to the extent that we can, because these things have a way of reinforcing themselves,” he said in an interview.

“At this point, we’re comfortable with these (benefits) being in place, just to provide that certainty and a cushion against potential second-wave impacts.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEI benefits

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta passes bill to give all workers paid leave to get COVID-19 vaccine shot

Labour Minister Jason Copping says Bill 71 will reduce barriers for Alberta workers to get vaccinated

Alberta completed 18,412 COVID-19 tests, as reported on Wednesday, for a test positivity rate of 9.5 per cent. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Highest daily count of 2021 so far: Alberta reports 1,699 COVID-19 cases

Variants now make up 59 per cent of Alberta’s active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. announces signage along Alberta border to discourage non-essential travel

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Alberta bill would protect health workers, care homes from some COVID-19 lawsuits

The bill proposes exempting a range of workers, including doctors, pharmacists and care-home operators, from being sued over COVID-19 unless it was for gross negligence

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was in Red Deer on Friday to provide an update on the province's COVID-19 response in schools.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Alberta government aiming to boost financial literacy among students

Government providing grants to organizations who will help design financial literacy programming

President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. to help Canada with more COVID-19 vaccine supply, Biden says

The U.S. has already provided Canada with about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

Most Read