The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Early figures for new aid and EI provide glimpse of how post-CERB supports to be used

The CERB ceased to exist on Oct. 3, although people can still retroactively apply for CERB payments

The employment insurance system absorbed almost 1.3 million people in the last three weeks, new figures show, as a key COVID-19 benefit wound down.

A breakdown of applications for the simplified EI program shows that overall there had been more than 1.5 million claims as of late this past week, among them 1.15 million people who were automatically transferred when their emergency benefit ran out.

The figures are enormous for a system that in one day this month handled 246,000-plus claims. In the spring, officials worried the 87,000 applications on one March day would make the decades-old system burst its seams.

Figures obtained by The Canadian Press also show that more than 84 per cent of applications had been processed, which experts who reviewed the numbers noted was a positive sign for the transition off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, better known as the CERB.

Couple that with the more than 300,000 people who turned to a suite of new benefits on the first day they were available, and the figures provide a hint at the ongoing need for income support even as employment has picked up.

Figures on claims can be “valuable in providing a partial, real-time assessment” of the impact COVID-19 has on the labour force, officials wrote to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough in April.

At the time, they were writing in a briefing note about providing regular updates on CERB recipients and payments as “the labour market landscape continues to evolve across the country.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

The CERB ceased to exist on Oct. 3, although people can still retroactively apply for CERB payments until Dec. 2. The government expected up to four million people would use the revamped EI and three additional benefits for those not EI-eligible.

READ MORE: Canadians with COVID-19 or caring for those with it can apply for federal money

Up to 2.8 million people would need EI, based on internal projections from the department that oversees the program. About one million more would likely need the three new benefits.

On the first day it was available this past week, 240,640 people applied for the Canada Recovery Benefit. By that same Monday, a further 107,150 applied for a caregiving benefit and 58,560 applied for the new two-week sickness benefit, both of which had opened for applications the previous week.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. Its senior economist David Macdonald said the vastly higher number suggests some EI-eligible workers may have found it easier to apply for the sickness benefit.

“There will be plenty of honest confusion among people as to where they might apply next, and they might take the path of least resistance, which is going to be these (recovery) programs,” said Macdonald, who has closely tracked aid figures.

Mikal Skuterud, a professor and labour economist at the University of Waterloo, said there may also be people who are EI-eligible but apply for the CRB because of other differences in the programs, such as how quickly benefits are clawed back, how long they last, and how much tax is taken off at the source of payments.

“There are some big issues there, but that’s kind of unfair to criticize the government because designing these kinds of income-support programs for self-employed people is a quagmire,” he said.

The first EI payments went out this week, with just over 84 per cent of applicants receiving benefits, a figure experts noted as positive.

The labour market has recouped about 2.3 million of the three million jobs lost when the pandemic first struck. A new round of restrictions amid rising COVID-19 case counts threatens some of those gains.

Given the unknown future path of COVID-19, Scotiabank senior economist Marc Desormeaux said the government will have to be very careful about when it winds down the pandemic benefits.

Ending programs too soon could lead to weak business results as fewer people have money to spend, leading to potential bankruptcies or closures, creating job losses and making employment weak anew.

“We want to try and recover more quickly to the extent that we can, because these things have a way of reinforcing themselves,” he said in an interview.

“At this point, we’re comfortable with these (benefits) being in place, just to provide that certainty and a cushion against potential second-wave impacts.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEI benefits

Just Posted

(File photo)
Poverty reduction survey identifies 10 poverty themes

Poverty reduction plan will be finalized in July 2021

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly says he has no intentions of leaving the Green Party. (House of Commons image)
Island Green MPs have “no intention” of leaving the party after ‘heartbreaking’ departure

Manly, May only remaining Green MPs after Jenica Atwin left for the Liberals over internal disputes

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

Justine Keefer’s Cedar Elementary School Grade 6/7 class put together a student paper, as part of a school project. Pictured here Andrew Gregory, left, Felix Leduc, Addison Armstrong, Lucia Walker and Anise Dick. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Cedar Elementary School students create their own newspaper

Grade 6/7 class publishes Wolf Pack News as part of language arts and social studies

Évangeline Laforest and Oscar McClements’ invention La Méduse (the Jellyfish) removes oil from the ocean. The invention was one of 15 out of 700 inventions submitted to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Little Inventors contest. (Cole Schisler photo)
‘Little Inventors’ from Ladysmith showcased in national science challenge

Évangeline Laforest and Oscar McClements were one of 15 finalists in the Little Inventors Challenge

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read