Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more flexible rules for claiming the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) in response to critics who pointed out the initial rules excluded students and people working reduced hours.
He also announced a wage boost for essential workers who make less than $2,500 a month, including those working in long-term care facilities for the elderly.
“Maybe you’re a volunteer firefighter, or a contractor who can pick up some shifts, or you’ve got a part-time job in a grocery store,” Trudeau said.
“We will do whatever we can to help you do your job and support you through this time.”
Seasonal workers and those who have recently run out of employment insurance will now also be eligible for CERB. People who make less than $1,000 a month due to reduced work hours will also qualify.
The prime minister outlined the expanded eligibility criteria during his daily briefing this morning outside his home at Rideau Cottage. He said there would be more news in coming days about help for post-secondary students and businesses having trouble paying commercial rent.
The government took heat from opposition parties and Canadians who were left out under the initial rules, which said that in order to qualify for CERB, an individual must have lost all income for 14 consecutive days in the first month, followed by zero income for subsequent months.
That omitted many students whose summer job plans are falling through, and people who are working reduced but regular hours. Trudeau also has promised to make a change so that essential workers, such as those working in long-term care facilities, aren’t financially disadvantaged by working instead of collecting CERB.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today his party has been pointing to gaps in the program for weeks.
“Any time a program can be changed to make sure the help is getting to those who need it, we obviously support that,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa.
Legislation passed on the weekend on the separate business wage subsidy program also spoke to the need for measures to address gaps in the CERB.
That legislation specifically mentions the needs of seasonal workers, people who have exhausted EI benefits, students, owner-operators and those who continue to receive a modest income from part-time work, royalties and honorariums.
As of Monday, nearly six million people had applied for COVID-19 emergency aid benefits over the previous month. More than half of them — about 3.5 million — had applied for CERB since applications opened on April 6.
Opposition calls out ‘terrible design flaw’
The total figure of nearly six million includes those who applied through the 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 said Monday there was a “terrible design flaw” in the CERB which disqualified 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.
Poilievre 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.