Bill Curry | Robert Fife
March 25, 2020
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa will provide workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with $2,000 per month for the next four months to help them pay their rent and groceries.
Mr. Trudeau told his daily news conference that the government is aware of the uncertainty facing the country and has merged two public assistance measures into a single program to make it easier for people to apply and receive money.
“The Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month for the next four months for workers who lose their income as a result of COVID-19,” he said.
The new benefit combines the $10-billion Emergency Care Benefit and the $5-billion Emergency Support Benefit that were announced last week.
The government said Wednesday that the new benefit will be available to unemployed Canadians who do not qualify for Employment Insurance. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill Morneau also suggested the benefit could be used as a stop gap in situations where businesses stop paying employees temporarily but do not proceed to layoffs.
“If you lost your job because of COVID-19 but are full-time, contract or self-employed, this new benefit will be there for you. If you are sick or quarantined or looking after someone sick or taking care of your kids, it’s there for you. If you are still employed but not receiving income because of this crisis, the CERB is there for you,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters.
Mr. Trudeau said an application portal will be launched quickly and Canadians should be able to get money within 10 days of applying.
He noted though that money is unlikely to start flowing to people until April 6.
Mr. Trudeau also indicated the government was reviewing the demands of business groups to substantially increase the wage subsidy so employers can keep workers on the payroll even if they are off in self-isolation.
Countries such as Denmark are paying wage subsidies of about 75 per cent as opposed to 10 per cent that Ottawa proposed.
“We are absolutely looking at more direct help for businesses,” he said. “We are working with business groups. We are working with small business groups and hearing their concerns, looking very carefully at the models put forward in other parts of the world, like Denmark and Germany, and looking at how we could make that work and make an equivalency here in Canada."
Over 60 Canadian business groups called on Ottawa to provide direct funding for employees.
“Other countries have recognized this need and are offering to cover as much as 80 per cent of the incomes of workers who are laid off as a result of the health emergency. We encourage the government to backstop the economy by implementing income supports at similar levels as Denmark and the United Kingdom,” a letter from the business groups said.
The new benefit is included in Bill C-13, emergency legislation approved by the House of Commons Wednesday morning. The legislation implements $82-billion in new spending and tax deferral measures announced last week. It also grants new spending powers to cabinet that will expire on Sept. 30, 2020.
According to the legislation, the new benefit will be available to anyone who is at least 15 years old and who, in 2019 or in the 12-month period before they apply, had a total employment income of at least $5,000.
The program will be closed to applications as of Dec. 2, 2020.
It is open to workers – both employed or self-employed – who ceased working for at least 14 days for reasons related to COVID-19. The program provides income for up to 16 weeks.
In a news release, the Finance Department said the new benefit will cover “Canadians who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.”
The government said the new system is aimed at people who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance and is also an effort to take pressure off of the overburdened EI application system.
“The EI system was not designed to process the unprecedented high volume of applications received in the past week. Given this situation, all Canadians who have ceased working due to COVID-19, whether they are EI-eligible or not, would be able to receive the CERB to ensure they have timely access to the income support they need,” the department said.
“Additionally, workers who are still employed, but are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19, would also qualify for the CERB. This would help businesses keep their employees as they navigate these difficult times, while ensuring they preserve the ability to quickly resume operations as soon as it becomes possible.”
The Prime Minister said the government would also be announcing financial aid to the media companies that have seen their advertising revenue dry up as corporations have had to close their doors because of COVID-19. Details are expected to be announced later Wednesday.
This Globe and Mail article was legally licensed by AdvisorStream.