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

Saanich Police are investigating a broken window at the Greater Victoria School District office. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Saanich police investigating broken window at SD61 office

Police suspect the window was broken by a pellet, possibly from a slingshot

Emily Harris (centre) started the in-person Monarch Moms meet-up groups in July, when it was much easier to physical distance in outdoor spaces. Harris started the group as a source of connection for women navigating the ups and downs of having a baby during a pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Victoria new mom group navigates challenges of motherhood in a pandemic

Monarch Moms meet once a week for physically-distanced connection

The Takaya inspired sculpture currently in Kent Laforme’s outdoor studio. The 25,000-pound piece of Vancouver Island marble could be installed on Cattle Point. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Joanne Smith has been visiting Goldstream Provincial Park since she moved to Langford two years ago. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Visitors flock to Goldstream Provincial Park for 2020 salmon run

‘I wanted to come here before I move back to Australia,’ says visitor

A bear similar to this black bear was spotted on Elk Lake Drive again on Oct. 21 and is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Search continues for bear wandering through Saanich

Bear spotted eating garbage near Elk Lake Wednesday, B.C. Conservation says

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)
POLL: Have you voted yet?

As election day quickly approaches, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have… Continue reading

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Local candidates Pam Alexis, Abbotsford-Mission, and Preet Rai, Abbotsford-West, look on as NDP Leader John Horgan main streets in Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. NDP takes snap election risk during pandemic in quest for majority government

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the election was unnecessary and irresponsible during the pandemic

Most Read