Nearly 6 million people have applied for COVID-19 emergency benefits

Nearly six million people have applied for COVID-19 emergency aid benefits in the past month.

Wage subsidy legislation to help businesses keep workers on the payroll passed in Parliament on the weekend

Most businesses that are considered non-essential have been closed to stop the transmission of COVID-19. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Nearly six million people have applied for COVID-19 emergency aid benefits in the past month.

Figures from Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough's office show that more than half of them (3.5 million) have applied for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) since applications opened on April 6.

The total figure of nearly six million includes those who applied through the employment insurance (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 held a news conference today, urging the government to fast-track the 75 per cent wage subsidy for businesses to get money out the door faster. That legislation passed in Parliament over the weekend.

Poilievre suggested businesses could receive their wage subsidy payments through banks and credit unions, which could get the money flowing in days rather than several weeks.

Close to 172,000 new CERB claims were filed over the weekend.

But Poilievre said there is a "terrible design flaw" in the subsidy's criteria, which disqualify 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.

Poilieve 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.

The Conservatives issued a statement Monday calling on the government to develop an "action plan" to help the hard-hit restaurant, hospitality and tourism sectors.

"Business owners must be given the tools they need to open their doors again and ensure that they do not lose their workforce during the pandemic, especially in areas with historically high unemployment," the statement reads.

"The government must also take recommendations from industry leaders and small business owners seriously. Sector-oriented support will be key to helping these operators and their employees survive, and ensuring that these industries are first out of the gate once this crisis subsides."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is taking time with his family today and will not be giving his usual daily briefing.

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