Written by Jordan Fremont and Archana Ravichandradeva
On April 15, 2020, the Canadian government announced changes to the eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that will provide individuals with enhanced opportunities to access the program. The CERB was originally established to provide a taxable benefit of $2000 for every four-week period, up to a maximum of 16 weeks, to workers who lost their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the government subsequently acknowledged that the original eligibility criteria left out workers who continue to earn nominal levels of income, workers who are seasonally employed and would have returned to work, and workers who have exhausted Employment Insurance (EI) and are unable to obtain new work. The changes to the eligibility criteria help to fill these gaps.
The following provides an update to our two previous blogs on the CERB, An Overview of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in Respect of COVID-19 Employment Disruptions (dated March 26, 2020) and The Canada Emergency Response Benefit for Individuals Impacted by COVID-19—New Details Announced (dated April 2, 2020).
Modified Eligibility Criteria
As modified, the CERB will be available to individuals:
- Residing in Canada, who are at least 15 years old;
- Who have stopped working because of reasons related to COVID-19 or are eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits, or have exhausted their EI regular benefits between December 29, 2019, and October 3, 2020;
- Who had employment and/or self-employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their CERB application; and
- Who have not quit their job voluntarily.
The government has now added an income threshold of $1000, below which the CERB will remain available. This change is meant to expand CERB access to individuals who continue to work despite low hours or wages.
Specifically, for the initial claim period, a worker will not be disqualified from the CERB if the worker earns up to $1,000 in employment and/or self-employment income for 14 or more consecutive days within the four-week claim period. For subsequent claim periods, a worker will not be disqualified from the CERB if the worker earns up to $1,000 in employment and/or self-employment income for the entire four-week benefit period of the new claim.
Employment/self-employment income for this purpose includes regular pay, tips that are earned while working, non-eligible dividends, and honoraria or royalties that are earned or received within the four-week claim period. Amounts that are excluded include pensions, student loans and bursaries.
The other changes announced on April 15 extend access to the CERB to:
- Seasonal workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to undertake their regular seasonal work because of COVID-19; and
- Workers who have recently exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to find a job because of COVID-19.
These changes will be made retroactive to March 15, 2020.
Individuals who wish to access the CERB program can apply through the Portal.
Wage Boost for Essential Workers
Though not clearly related to the CERB program, on April 15 the government also announced that it will work with provinces and territories to provide a temporary top up to the salaries of low-income workers who:
- Are deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19; and
- Earn less than $2,500 per month.
The federal government will cover a portion of the cost of the top-up by providing a transfer of funds to the provinces and territories, who will then be able to provide their employees with the top-up. Details of this new benefit, including who will be considered essential to receive this top-up, are to be provided in the coming days.
We will continue to monitor and provide updates on any developments on the CERB and other government assistance programs for employers and workers. If your business or organization has questions in respect of the CERB or other employment-related matters, please contact a member of the Bennett Jones Employment Services group. In addition, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre for other COVID-19-related materials.