Politics

What you need to know about the new COVID-19 benefits program

The federal government began receiving applications for the COVID-19 emergency benefits program on April 6. Canadians struggling financially through the pandemic can expect payments within three to five days from the time of application if they set up for a direct deposit.

Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) will deliver about $2K a month for eligible Canadians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says nearly 1 million Canadians have applied for employment insurance in the past week. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal government began receiving applications for the COVID-19 emergency benefits program on April 6.

Canadians struggling financially through the pandemic can expect payments within three to five days from the time of application if they set up for a direct deposit, or in about 10 days if they opted to receive a cheque in the mail.

The government has asked Canadians to stagger the application process, based on their month of birth. Canadians born January through March are to apply April 6, those born April through June on April 7, those born July through September on April 8 and those born October through December on April 9.

Individual income support payments amounting to about $2,000 a month will be available for four months.

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) offers income support to those who lose their source of income because of the pandemic, including Canadians who lose their jobs, get sick, go into quarantine or have to stay home to care for children due to school closures.

Who qualifies for the CERB?

It's available to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed people who don't qualify for employment insurance (EI).

The benefit will be available to workers living in Canada who are at least 15 years old and who:

  • Have earned at least $5,000 in 2019, or in the year before their application, from employment, self employment, employment insurance maternity and parental benefits, and/or similar benefits paid in Quebec under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), or a combination of these sources.
  • Are without income for at least 14 consecutive days in a four-week period because of COVID-19. Under the current rules, someone must be without income for at least 14 consecutive days in the first month because of COVID-19 — because they have stopped working temporarily, lost their job, are sick or in quarantine, or need to care for a child or a family member. After the first four-week period, the person must have no source of income in subsequent months in order to qualify.

People who are eligible for EI can continue to apply for it; their claims will be streamed through the CERB process. After the 16-week period, they will then receive EI benefits.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced April 6 that the government is also looking to expand eligibility so that other Canadians, including students, will qualify for income supports during the pandemic. It is also looking to include people who are working reduced hours during the crisis. And for people in low-paying jobs, including those caring for vulnerable seniors, the government is looking for a way to ensure they are not making less than what CERB pays to continue their critical work.

Trudeau said details of those adjustments are expected in coming days.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will provide $2,000 per month for the next four months to workers losing income as a result of COVID-19. 1:30

If the federal government determines that someone received an income support payment for which they did not qualify, they will have to repay that amount as soon as they can.

The repayment amount will be determined by the government. No interest payments would be charged on the amount owed.

How do people apply?

The online portal to apply for CERB opened on April 6. People can also apply through a toll-free telephone line, 1-800-959-2019.

Canadians can go to Canada.ca for information about the benefit, which will be managed by Canada Revenue Agency.

If applying online, Canadians will have to sign into CRA My Account. They should go to COVID-19: Canada Emergency Response Benefit in the alert banner at the top of the web page, select the period they want to apply for, declare that they qualify for the benefit and confirm the government has the right payment information.

CERB payments will be issued every four weeks, and will be available retroactively from March 15, 2020 until Oct. 3, 2020. Recipients will have to confirm eligibility once a month.

What about those already collecting EI?

Canadians who already have applied for EI through Service Canada, and whose application has not yet been processed, don't need to reapply.

Canadians who are eligible for regular EI and sickness benefits can still access those benefits if they're still unemployed after the 16-week period covered by the CERB.

How much is the package worth?

The CERB is part of a suite of measures in the new legislation on Canada's emergency response program. That  legislation passed in Parliament on March 25 after tense negotiations between the political parties.

The bill, as initially pitched, was worth about $82 billion, but Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the price tag increased to $107 billion because the CERB is being made available to more people.

The government is also delivering a number of other measures, including tax deferrals and expanded child benefits.

What about help for businesses?

The federal government also has announced a wage subsidy program so businesses can keep employees on the payroll.

The 75 per cent wage subsidy will be available to businesses, charities and non-profits of all sizes which see a drop in revenue of at least 30 per cent, compared to the same month last year, because of the pandemic.

The government originally proposed a 10 per cent wage subsidy, but later conceded that was not enough to help struggling businesses and announced the expanded program March 27.

Various business groups applauded the increased subsidy but want more flexibility built into the requirement to demonstrate a 30 per cent drop in revenues for businesses that are new, growing or seasonal.

Business organizations also called for a quicker timeline for the subsidy, which the government projected could take three to six weeks to be up and running.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau briefed reporters at his daily COVID-19 media availability outside Rideau Cottage 27:32

With files from the CBC's Peter Zimonjic

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