Politics

Part-time, contract and seasonal workers now qualify for COVID-19 emergency benefits

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more flexible rules for claiming the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) in response to critics who pointed out the initial rules excluded students and people working reduced hours.

PM also announces wage boost for essential workers, including those caring for the elderly

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new eligibility rules for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) Wednesday. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more flexible rules for claiming the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) in response to critics who pointed out the initial rules excluded too many people, including those working reduced hours.

Seasonal workers and those who have recently run out of employment insurance will now also be eligible for CERB. People who make less than $1,000 a month due to reduced work hours will also qualify.

As examples, Trudeau pointed to volunteer firefighters, contractors who can pick up some shifts, or people working part-time in grocery stores.

He also announced a wage boost for essential workers who make less than $2,500 a month, including those working in long-term care facilities for the elderly.

"We will do whatever we can to help you do your job and support you through this time."

Watch: Trudeau on expanded CERB eligibility

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced part-time, contract and seasonal workers will now qualify for CERB, the COVID-19 emergency benefit. 1:16

Details on sums and the delivery of the top-up are to be discussed in a call between Trudeau and the premiers tomorrow. A news release from the PMO said it will be a temporary cost-sharing initiative that could help "several million workers currently involved in the COVID-19 response."

The prime minister outlined the expanded eligibility criteria during his daily briefing this morning outside his home at Rideau Cottage. He said there would be more news in coming days about help for post-secondary students and businesses having trouble paying commercial rent.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the idea of the wage boost was first discussed with premiers last week, and their response to the proposal was "enthusiastic." She said could not immediately state who would be deemed essential in order to qualify for the top-up, and that details will be worked out collaboratively with the provinces and territories.

The government took heat from opposition parties and Canadians who were left out under the initial rules, which said that in order to qualify for CERB, an individual must have lost all income for 14 consecutive days in the first month, followed by zero income for subsequent months.

That omitted many students whose summer job plans are falling through, and people who are working reduced but regular hours. Trudeau also has promised to make a change so that essential workers, such as those working in long-term care facilities, aren't financially disadvantaged by working instead of collecting CERB.

The NDP, which had called for a universal $2,000 benefit, pushed for the expanded eligibility.

"We're happy that people can now earn some money and still apply for the Canadian emergency response benefit," says a media statement from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

"Thank you to everyone who shared their stories to help us fight for these changes. Still, too many people are falling though the cracks. We will keep fighting so that everyone gets the help they need."

Conservative employment critic Dan Albas said the government keeps changing the qualifications and is sending mixed messages.

"This concerning pattern of announcing programs, backtracking and then changing eligibility criteria has created confusion for Canadians who are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government communications and direction must be clear, consistent and transparent. That has not been the case during this crisis," he said.

Watch: Scheer on gaps for CERB

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his party has been pointing out gaps in the CERB program that have disqualified many Canadians. 2:03

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today his party has been pointing to gaps in the program for weeks.

"Any time a program can be changed to make sure the help is getting to those who need it, we obviously support that," he said during a news conference in Ottawa.

Legislation passed on the weekend on the separate business wage subsidy program also spoke to the need for measures to address gaps in the CERB.

That legislation specifically mentions the needs of seasonal workers, people who have exhausted EI benefits, students, owner-operators and those who continue to receive a modest income from part-time work, royalties and honorariums.

As of Monday, nearly six million people had applied for COVID-19 emergency aid benefits over the previous month. More than half of them — about 3.5 million — had applied for CERB since applications opened on April 6.

Opposition calls out 'terrible design flaw'

The total figure of nearly six million includes those who applied through the EI process, which will be streamed through CERB for the first four months. To date, close to 5.4 million of those six million aid claims have been processed.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Monday there was a "terrible design flaw" in the CERB which disqualified those who work regular but reduced hours.

"I can't think of a policy more perverse and backwards than one that punishes people for the crime of working hard," he said.

Poilievre said people who work reduced hours should be eligible under a formula that phases out income support based on the hours worked. He said emergency aid programs should always make people better off when they continue to work and contribute to the Canadian economy.

The $2,000 monthly CERB payment is for people who have lost their sources of income due to the global pandemic — either because they've lost their jobs or they have to stay home to care for dependents, or to self-isolate.

With files from the CBC's Janyce McGregor

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