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A CERB extension is in the works for those in need: PM
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is looking at extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and is promising an update by the end of the week.
“For now, all I can say is that we will continue to be there to support Canadians,” Trudeau said.
By the first week of July and through the summer, millions of Canadians will come to the end of their 16-week eligibility period to claim CERB, which has prompted questions about what will happen to those who have been on the program since it first launched and have already accessed the full $8,000 available, but are still out of a job and without income due to COVID-19.
The prime minister announced on Monday that because so many are still struggling, the government is “working on a solution to extend the benefit for people who can’t return to work yet.”
“If you’re having trouble finding a job, you shouldn’t also be worrying about whether you’ll hit the limit of your CERB benefits,” Trudeau said.
The first application period opened in early April, and Canadians are able to claim the benefit for a maximum of 16 weeks between March 15 and October 3, meaning there will still be Canadians receiving funding for weeks to come, but others are soon going to run out. There are also Canadians who could be coming up to the end of their benefit payments earlier if they were rolled onto the program from the Employment Insurance program at the very outset.
Close to 1.2 million Canadians have dropped off the program before maxing out their 16-week eligibility, meaning they have either gone back to work or have been moved onto the wage subsidy program through their employer.
As of June 4, the federal government has spent a total of $43.5 billion sending more than 8.4 million Canadians the $2,000 monthly payments. An extension—as the NDP have called for— would amount to approximately $17 billion each month the program remains in place under the current parameters.
“Whether it’s to cover the bills, to keep people on the payroll, or to make rent on a storefront, many Canadians need a hand right now,” Trudeau said.
The government’s initial intention was to gradually wean people off CERB and onto the federal wage subsidy program, which was rolled out with the promise of seeing millions of out-of-work Canadians be put back on their employer’s payroll, though the number of companies applying to receive the 75 per cent subsidy has been less than anticipated.
NDP TIE EXTENSION TO KEY VOTE
The promise for an update on the extension by week’s end comes as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has hitched his caucus’ support for an expected vote on a key spending bill on Wednesday contingent on a commitment to extend the program.
“There needs to be an extension of CERB. It's not acceptable for millions of Canadians to not know what's going to happen. And we want to find a way forward, and we're having negotiations about the fact that the government needs to release a plan on how they're going to help Canadians in this in this crisis when there's no jobs to return to,” Singh said during a Monday press conference on Parliament Hill.
Without the NDP support for the upcoming vote on the supplementary estimates—funding to tie overall regular federal departments until the fall and to beef up COVID-19 aid spending, totaling approximately $87 billion—the Liberals would have to rely on the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois to vote onside or risk the chance of losing a confidence vote given their minority standing.
Any votes that have to do with money, such as the federal budget or the estimates, are traditionally considered confidence votes. In any parliament, a government lives so long as it maintains the confidence of the House of Commons. This confidence is demonstrated each time a key vote passes.
“The Liberal government has to give a plan that lets these families know that they're not going to be left high and dry, that is that is crucial,” Singh said, though he also noted that he is not trying to bring down the government and force an election in the middle of a pandemic and is hopeful that the ongoing backroom negotiations will result in an agreement he could support.
Asked on CTV’s Power Play about whether the pledge for an extension will be enough, Singh said it gives him “some confidence” but he wants to wait and see what the details are.
From Rideau Cottage, Trudeau also provided an update on the emergency loan program available to businesses, and on the status of the promised program to address the food surplus farmers are experiencing due to the pandemic.
CEBA ELIGIBILITY EXPANDED
The Canada Emergency Business Account, or CEBA, was first announced in March and opened up for applications in April, as a way for businesses to access government-guaranteed loans to cover the costs of keeping their enterprise afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
Trudeau announced on Monday that the eligibility has been expanded to include more companies, with the updated application process set to open on Friday.
Specifically, now small businesses with payrolls between $20,000 and $1.5 million, sole proprietors receiving business income directly, and family-owned corporations that pay through dividends will be eligible. Initially, CEBA was open to businesses that had payrolls between $50,000 and $1 million.
“Our government is providing support to small businesses, so that they can keep their doors open, keep their employees on the job, and be better positioned once the economy begins to recover. We want businesses to know that we are there for them and that we are listening to their concerns," said Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a statement.
"Based on the feedback we have received on the CEBA, we are pleased to make adjustments to the program and expand it so that it can help more small businesses."
The program offers $40,000 government-guaranteed loans, interest-free for the first year. If the company can repay the balance of the loan by the end of 2022, up to $10,000 will be forgiven.
Projected as a $25-billion program, not-for-profit organizations are also able to apply through their banks, to help cover their operating costs during a period when their revenues have been “temporarily reduced” due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said on Monday that so far, approximately 670,000 businesses have applied for these loans, which amounts to more than $26 billion in credit being made available.
FOOD SURPLUS PROGRAM OPENS
Trudeau announced on Monday that the applications for the surplus food program are now open.
First promised in May, the $50-million program will see the government buy large quantities of surplus products and redistribute them to areas where food insecurity is an issue, to avoid throwing out food and to allow the producers to still be compensated.
Fishers or farmers who can’t sell their harvest can apply and the federal government will send the surplus to northern communities or food banks.
“No one could have predicted that this spring would turn out the way it did. Certainly for farmers, who keep our grocery stores stocked and our families fed, it’s been an unexpectedly challenging few months,” Trudeau said. “Farmers will have people to buy their goods, and food will get to the plates of families who wouldn’t have enough otherwise.”