The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. As the CERB winds down starting this weekend, employment insurance will start taking its place and a new suite of benefits that won’t exist unless approved by Parliament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

In mid-March, Christine Ilott’s manager broke some bad news to her: she was losing her job in live theatre as a result of the pandemic.

The 47-year-old went home to her basement apartment north of Toronto, walked down the stairs, sat down and took off her shoes. She glanced up the staircase and thought, “I don’t know when I’m leaving here next.”

“And for me, that was absolutely devastating because I love my job. I love working in theatre. And it just broke my heart.”

As she has searched unsuccessfully for work, and with no sign of theatres reopening in the next few months or longer, she relied on the $500-a-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Now, she, like millions of others, will lose the payments as the CERB winds down starting this weekend.

In its place is employment insurance, which the government says the majority of people will go on, and a new suite of benefits that won’t exist unless approved by Parliament.

Ilott, isn’t sure if she’ll be automatically transferred to EI, have to apply anew, or have to wait for the new benefits. She’s spent the weekend figuring out what to do.

All she is sure of is that she won’t have any income come Monday.

The cost of benefits

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people, or roughly two in every five members of the nearly 20.2 million-strong labour force in August.

Benefits were paid up front, which won’t be the case for Ilott and others in the first wave of those being transferred to the new system: The government says the first payment will come the week of Oct. 11. About 80 per cent are expected to receive payments by Oct. 14; a further 10 per cent within the first two weeks.

The $500-a-week floor on benefits in EI, or $300 per week floor for new parents using the extended-leave option, will be taxable. Jobless benefits through this EI program will be available for at least 26 weeks, and claimants will be allowed to earn more than they did under the CERB, up to $38,000 annually, before being completely cut off.

Employers will also be allowed to use “supplemental unemployment benefits” to top up EI payments.

The threshold to qualify for EI has been reduced to 120 hours of insurable work for those coming back into the system that has been nearly dormant since March.

The government says 2.8 million people will qualify for EI as of Monday. But many, like Ilott, may not do so automatically.

Applying anew

Ilott remembered calling a number to sign up for the CERB. She didn’t remember if it was Service Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency that she spoke with.

Anyone who applied for and received the CERB through Service Canada and is eligible for EI is supposed to be automatically transitioned over to employment insurance.

Anyone who applied and received the CERB through the CRA would need to apply anew for EI, if they qualify. Others who will have to apply to Service Canada are those with temporary 900-series social insurance numbers and self-employed workers who receive benefits through Service Canada.

Ilott planned to make calls and search online for answers this weekend to figure out what she needs to do. On Friday, Service Canada was warning about long wait times on the phone, with record volumes expected at call centres.

“I’m sick and tired of not knowing,” she said.

“Now that we’ve got this thing and it’s going to last for six months, that provides me with a little bit of relief, because now at least I know for those six months, but I’m sick and tired of everything being done at the last minute.”

Not qualifying for EI

The Liberals first proposed the new suite of benefits in August, two days after Parliament was prorogued.

The Liberals introduced a bill Thursday in the House of Commons that includes the CERB replacement, called the Canada Recovery Benefit, for everyone who doesn’t qualify for EI.

With the bill just being introduced, and changes coming Monday after the New Democrats pushed the Liberals to expand access to the sick-leave benefit, those advising recipients are also left scrambling as they face questions.

The Workers Action Centre in Toronto had to pull down its online fact sheet Thursday night and was frantically poring over the legislation to provide answers on Friday, said executive director Deena Ladd.

“We just try to manage all the phone calls as quickly as possible and just walk people through the process and the steps,” she said of the centre’s work over the pandemic.

“But first, we’re just trying to make sure we understand what those steps are and partly we will have to go through those steps ourselves to be able to give the accurate advice.”

The Canada Revenue Agency is to administer the new recovery benefit, but couldn’t say Friday how to get it because Parliament hasn’t approved it. A spokesman said those eligible for the Canada Recovery Benefit should sign up for the CRA’s “My Account” as well as direct deposit to get benefits quickly when they’re available.

The bottom line

Putting a floor on benefits equal to that of the CERB is going to mean two million people won’t see their incomes fall, said David Macdonald, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Some might even get more on EI than they did on the CERB.

But that largely depends on a smooth transition and making sure no one falls through the cracks, Macdonald said.

“You need the enabling legislation passed for the million people that are going to end up on these new Canada recovery programs, which has not been passed,” he said.

“We’re coming up to the end of one program without these new programs even being programs yet.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Alisha Bryan holds a handful of poppy sticks at the poppy laying ceremony on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Remembrance Day will look a little different this year for Lacombe

The Lacombe Legion is taking COVID-19 precautions for people who want to pay their respects.

Chad Carlson (left) Jarita Carlson and their two children Milo Carlson (left) and Lennon Carlson are dressing up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe family passionate about Halloween and giving back to their community

COVID-19 has changed how the Carlson’s will celebrate Halloween this year

The Lacombe Legion volunteers laid poppies beside the graves of veterans on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe Legion volunteers lay poppies for fallen veterans

Twenty volunteers showed up on Wednesday to pay their respects and help out

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read