The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. As the CERB winds down starting this weekend, employment insurance will start taking its place and a new suite of benefits that won’t exist unless approved by Parliament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

In mid-March, Christine Ilott’s manager broke some bad news to her: she was losing her job in live theatre as a result of the pandemic.

The 47-year-old went home to her basement apartment north of Toronto, walked down the stairs, sat down and took off her shoes. She glanced up the staircase and thought, “I don’t know when I’m leaving here next.”

“And for me, that was absolutely devastating because I love my job. I love working in theatre. And it just broke my heart.”

As she has searched unsuccessfully for work, and with no sign of theatres reopening in the next few months or longer, she relied on the $500-a-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Now, she, like millions of others, will lose the payments as the CERB winds down starting this weekend.

In its place is employment insurance, which the government says the majority of people will go on, and a new suite of benefits that won’t exist unless approved by Parliament.

Ilott, isn’t sure if she’ll be automatically transferred to EI, have to apply anew, or have to wait for the new benefits. She’s spent the weekend figuring out what to do.

All she is sure of is that she won’t have any income come Monday.

The cost of benefits

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people, or roughly two in every five members of the nearly 20.2 million-strong labour force in August.

Benefits were paid up front, which won’t be the case for Ilott and others in the first wave of those being transferred to the new system: The government says the first payment will come the week of Oct. 11. About 80 per cent are expected to receive payments by Oct. 14; a further 10 per cent within the first two weeks.

The $500-a-week floor on benefits in EI, or $300 per week floor for new parents using the extended-leave option, will be taxable. Jobless benefits through this EI program will be available for at least 26 weeks, and claimants will be allowed to earn more than they did under the CERB, up to $38,000 annually, before being completely cut off.

Employers will also be allowed to use “supplemental unemployment benefits” to top up EI payments.

The threshold to qualify for EI has been reduced to 120 hours of insurable work for those coming back into the system that has been nearly dormant since March.

The government says 2.8 million people will qualify for EI as of Monday. But many, like Ilott, may not do so automatically.

Applying anew

Ilott remembered calling a number to sign up for the CERB. She didn’t remember if it was Service Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency that she spoke with.

Anyone who applied for and received the CERB through Service Canada and is eligible for EI is supposed to be automatically transitioned over to employment insurance.

Anyone who applied and received the CERB through the CRA would need to apply anew for EI, if they qualify. Others who will have to apply to Service Canada are those with temporary 900-series social insurance numbers and self-employed workers who receive benefits through Service Canada.

Ilott planned to make calls and search online for answers this weekend to figure out what she needs to do. On Friday, Service Canada was warning about long wait times on the phone, with record volumes expected at call centres.

“I’m sick and tired of not knowing,” she said.

“Now that we’ve got this thing and it’s going to last for six months, that provides me with a little bit of relief, because now at least I know for those six months, but I’m sick and tired of everything being done at the last minute.”

Not qualifying for EI

The Liberals first proposed the new suite of benefits in August, two days after Parliament was prorogued.

The Liberals introduced a bill Thursday in the House of Commons that includes the CERB replacement, called the Canada Recovery Benefit, for everyone who doesn’t qualify for EI.

With the bill just being introduced, and changes coming Monday after the New Democrats pushed the Liberals to expand access to the sick-leave benefit, those advising recipients are also left scrambling as they face questions.

The Workers Action Centre in Toronto had to pull down its online fact sheet Thursday night and was frantically poring over the legislation to provide answers on Friday, said executive director Deena Ladd.

“We just try to manage all the phone calls as quickly as possible and just walk people through the process and the steps,” she said of the centre’s work over the pandemic.

“But first, we’re just trying to make sure we understand what those steps are and partly we will have to go through those steps ourselves to be able to give the accurate advice.”

The Canada Revenue Agency is to administer the new recovery benefit, but couldn’t say Friday how to get it because Parliament hasn’t approved it. A spokesman said those eligible for the Canada Recovery Benefit should sign up for the CRA’s “My Account” as well as direct deposit to get benefits quickly when they’re available.

The bottom line

Putting a floor on benefits equal to that of the CERB is going to mean two million people won’t see their incomes fall, said David Macdonald, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Some might even get more on EI than they did on the CERB.

But that largely depends on a smooth transition and making sure no one falls through the cracks, Macdonald said.

“You need the enabling legislation passed for the million people that are going to end up on these new Canada recovery programs, which has not been passed,” he said.

“We’re coming up to the end of one program without these new programs even being programs yet.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jenna Forster moderated the Virtual All Candidates Forum between Duck Paterson (top left); Chris Istace (top right); and Doug Routley (Youtube/Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce)
Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates state their case in virtual debate

Duck Paterson, Chris Istace, and Doug Routley are on the ballot for October 24

Dinner shows in the Playbill Dining Room are keeping the Chemainus Theatre going during the pandemic. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Dinner events satisfying for the Chemainus Theatre and patrons

Small groups enjoy entertainment and the food in the Playbill Dining Room

The cover of the 2021 RASTA calendar. (Photo submitted)
Smashed pumpkins provide a royal Thanksgiving feast for RASTA Sanctuary animals

Substantial community donations to purchase pumpkins surpasses the initial goal

Advance polling begins on Oct. 15, 2020, across B.C. in the 2020 snap election. (Black Press files)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Advance voting begins today in Nanaimo-North Cowichan

Advance voting runs from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21 in B.C.’s election

The Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates will take part in a virtual candidates forum hosted by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce and VIREB (Submitted photo)
Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates to participate in virtual candidates forum

The forum will be hosted by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce and VIREB on October 19

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Michael Leighton, who is wanted on 11 warrants on Vancouver Island and is a suspect in a recent break, enter and theft in Nanaimo. (Photos submitted)
RCMP looking for break-and-enter suspect with 11 warrants on the Island

Nanaimo RCMP say Michael Leighton a suspect in theft of pistol and $40,000 worth of coins

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

Most Read