Have questions about Canada emergency response benefit? This lawyer has answers

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo put your questions about Employment Insurance and the Canada emergency response benefit to a pension and benefits lawyer.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo put your questions about temporary income support to a pension and benefits lawyer

The federal government is receiving applications for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. CBC Kitchener-Waterloo posed some eligibility questions to pension and benefits lawyer Stephanie Kalinowski. (Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press)

The federal government launched an application portal for the new Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) Monday. By the end of the day, nearly one million Candians applied. 

The CERB is temporary income support for people who've stopped working due to COVID-19, including those who are self-employed. People who are normally eligible for employment insurance (EI) can apply through EI and Service Canada, and they will be automatically enrolled in CERB.

For more clarity on eligiblity, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo spoke with Stephanie Kalinowski, is a pension and benefits lawyer with the firm Hicks Morley LLP.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For further information about your particular situation, please call the Government of Canada

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: What makes the CERB different from employment insurance (EI)?

Stephanie Kalinowski: Initially, when the CERB was announced, it was intended to be something that would be payable to workers who would not be eligible for EI. For example, the self-employed, or those who needed to stay home to care for children, who could no longer go to daycare or school due to the emergency closures.

As the federal government evolved in its thinking ... they seem to have decided to expand the emergency benefit and essentially replace EI with the CERB in order to get money into people's hands much faster than they felt they could under the EI system.

Can you think of any instances where someone might be eligible for EI and would not be eligible for CERB?

If you are applying for EI for a reason that's not related to COVID-19. For example, if you are applying for EI maternity or parental benefits, those those would not be paid through CERB. Those would continue to be paid through the EI system as appropriate.

Some listeners have told us they may not feel safe at work, perhaps because they have a chronic health condition that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19, yet their employer has not laid them off. Can they apply for CERB?

That's a difficult question. One thing that is clear, is that the CERB is not available to individuals who are voluntarily not working. So there would be a question of, if you're not working, but your employer has asked you to work, whether you might fall into that category or not. That is a question the government would have to answer for people in that situation.

Let's say you were laid off by your previous job, but you've decided to take a couple of shifts here and there at a grocery store or a pharmacy. Are you eligible for any kind of benefit?

No. The way that CERB has currently been structured is that you cannot have any employment income if you are to be eligible for the CERB. 

That is a distinction between CERB  and EI. Because under EI, as long as you've got your initial seven days without work and earnings, you could pick up some hours here and there and still receive your EI. It wasn't completely prohibited the way it currently is for CERB.

Yesterday, I believe the prime minister signalled that they are aware of that issue, and are looking at solutions for those kinds of people.

For someone who's been working abroad but had to return to Canada when the pandemic hit, would they be eligible for benefits?

The federal government has clarified that the $5,000 [in 2019 earnings needed in order to qualify] does not have to be earned in Canada. But, you do need to reside in Canada. 

How long will the CERB last?

It ends Oct. 3 and you can get the CERB for up to 16 weeks.

As a pension and benefits lawyer, what will you be watching for going forward?

[The federal government] has passed the legislation to implement the CERB, but they have not yet produced the regulations that will contain a lot of this detail. So a lot of the uncertainty will hopefully be eliminated once we see those regulations.

Applications are now open for the Canada emergency response benefit. (CBC)


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