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'Long journey ahead': Feds extend CERB by 8 weeks
OTTAWA -- The $500 per week Canada Emergency Response Benefit program will be extended by eight weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday, meaning those who will soon run out will have until the end of the summer to keep claiming the benefit while they try to find work.
Three months after the program rolled out, Trudeau said that while a gradual economic reopening is underway, there’s “a long journey ahead” before all sectors bounce back and all who have been laid off find jobs.
“The reality is that even as we start to reopen, a lot of people still need this support to pay their bills while they look for work,” Trudeau said.
The government continues to emphasize that it is looking for ways to incentivize returning to work rather than staying home and staying on the financial aid program, but Trudeau did not indicate during his Rideau Cottage address any major changes coming to the eligibility criteria or funding amount.
“Over the next few weeks, our government will look at international best practices, and monitor the economy and the progression of the virus to see what changes – if any – need to be made to the program so that more people are supported,” Trudeau said.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough later told reporters that stronger language will be added to the attestation portion of the application process, informing applicants that they should be looking for work.
“We can’t impose an obligation on somebody to take a job, but we are encouraging and saying that through the attestation, that people actively seek work and take it when it’s reasonable in their circumstances to do so,” she said.
Qualtrough said that there will be acceptable reasons for some Canadians to remain out of the workplace, such as not having access to childcare or having COVID-19 symptoms.
Though, once the eight weeks are up, don’t expect a second extension of the program.
“If at some point in the future, say the fall or early next year, there was a second wave, of course we’d have to look at what support for Canadian workers would look like at that time,” said Qualtrough in an interview on CTV’s Power Play.
She said that the plan is to by then have the Employment Insurance program agile enough to accept applications from people in different work situations but “right now the plan is eight weeks and that’s it.”
On Monday, Trudeau signalled the announcement was on the horizon, saying that the government was “working on a solution to extend the benefit for people who can’t return to work yet.”
By the first week of July and through the summer, millions of Canadians were set to come to the end of their 16-week eligibility period to claim CERB, which prompted questions about what would 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.
“So, if you’ve been getting the CERB and you still can’t work because you are unable to find a job or it’s just not possible, you will keep getting that $2000 a month,” Trudeau said.
The program will remain open to anyone who earns less than $1,000 a month.
The requirement of re-applying every four weeks remains to confirm applicants still meet the current criteria. Among the eligibility requirements, CERB applicants must be at least 15 years of age, live in Canada, earned an income of at least $5,000 in the last 12 months and have not quit their job voluntarily.
'NOT A LONG-TERM SOLUTION'
The first application period opened in early April, with Canadians able to claim the benefit for a maximum of 16 weeks between March 15 and October 3. 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.
“In that time period, workers will now have 24 weeks of the CERB available to them,” Qualtrough said, adding that while the extension will help millions of people, it is “not a long-term solution.”
“We know that Canadians are ready and eager to do their part. We expect that workers will be seeking work opportunities or returning to work when their employer reaches out to them, provided they're able,” she said.
Close to 1.2 million Canadians stopped using 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 payments, which total $2,000 a month.
While the government has yet to offer a concrete estimate on the cost of the extension, Qualtrough said that at the peak number of claims the program cost the government approximately $17 billion, but she expects that amount will go down over time as fewer Canadians need the benefit.
The announcement of an extension is something the NDP have long been calling for and comes just ahead of what will be a key House of Commons sitting on Wednesday where the Liberals will be looking for allies to help fast track their latest spending measures.