Sask. man says province shouldn't be clawing back disability payments for people on CERB

Jason Laprairie says Saskatchewan should reconsider its policy on whether disability cheques should be clawed back for people receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Province says any additional money from federal government must be paid back

People who are receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will have their Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) cheques clawed back. (Shutterstock)

Jason Laprairie says Saskatchewan should reconsider its policy on whether disability cheques should be clawed back for people receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Laprairie's aunt, who suffers from fibromialgia and post traumatic stress disorder, is on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program. The program allows her to work part-time without giving back the extra money.

When COVID-19 hit, she applied to the CERB, a benefit program designed to help Canadians unemployed due to COVID-19 after losing her job. She soon found out that any money she got from CERB would be taken out of her provincial disability cheques.

"It feels heartless to me," said Laprairie.

"It feels callous for someone who has worked with different vulnerable populations. I have like a big problem with something like this."

His aunt earned over $5,000 per year at her part time job, which she has lost due to the pandemic.

He said people on the disability program are allowed to earn up to $6,000 per year. He thinks amounts over the $6,000 should be clawed back, rather than dollar for dollar.

"People with disabilities who qualify for CERB are being treated differently than any other able-bodied Canadian who qualifies," he said. 

"From a human rights perspective, this is a problem." 

Laprairie said his aunt barely made enough money to get by beforehand, and to have to the money clawed back seems cruel.

"It's just so difficult for her to make ends meet," he said.

"She doesn't have a lot of options."

Different policies

According to a new national study from Maytree and the Metcalf Foundation, provinces are divided on how they handle the CERB program.

For example, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Yukon completely exempt CERB from social assistance programs and allow people to keep both.

However, other provinces like Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland claw back all social assistance money dollar-for-dollar, depending on how much money the person received from CERB.

"Across all of our provincial income assistance programs, we are treating income from the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) the same as we do all other wage replacement programs such as Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan and Workers' Compensation," wrote Doris Morrow, executive director of program service and design with the Ministry of Social Service.

"If the income through CERB is sufficient to meet their needs, they will not receive financial benefits from our provincial income assistance programs during that period of time."

Depending on how much money they receive, a family might also become ineligible for the SAID program for a certain amount of time because they wouldn't be financially eligible, depending on their needs.

John Stapleton, a fellow with the Metcalf Foundation, said the pandemic has caused financial difficulties for many people on assistance.

"They can't go to the food bank anymore because they're supposed to be isolated," he said.

"They can't go out and comparison shop because they're supposed to be indoors."

Stapleton said there is merit to the argument that people should be receiving both programs.

"It's not just income replacement," he said.

"It's meant to provide income that will help you stay safe, stay indoors and keep away from situations where you might expose yourself to the virus."

The Ministry of Social Services asked anyone on income assistance to contact them about how CERB income may impact their benefits, and said it will advise people whether they should apply for the program or not.


David Shield is a web writer for CBC Saskatoon.