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Some Canadians will be receiving smaller CERB payments in June. Here's why.
TORONTO -- When Erin O’Brien opened up her email last week, she was shocked to find a notice from the federal government informing her that she would not receive her Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payment the following week.
The Ottawa mother said the email explained that she was receiving the smaller amount in June because she was given a $2,000 advance when she collected her first CERB payment in April.
“I didn’t realize that this was even going to happen,” she told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview from her home in Ottawa on Wednesday. “I thought it would just be all in the end that they would fix things. Not halfway through.”
O’Brien is far from alone in her surprise at the sudden reduction in CERB payments this month.
Dozens of Canadians have written in to CTVNews.ca to share how they, too, received word from the government last week notifying them that they weren’t eligible for the full $2,000 in June because of the earlier advance.
Kimberly Drew said she will only be receiving $500 this month, instead of the $2,000 she was expecting because of the advance payment she collected in April.
“It was not explained well when the payment came out so it was a bit of a shock,” she said. “I am frustrated.”
WHY ARE THERE REDUCED PAYMENTS NOW?
According to one of the Service Canada emails a CERB claimant received and forwarded to CTVNews.ca, the extra $2,000 that some people collected at the beginning of the program was an “advance of four weeks of the CERB, which was issued in order to get money in your pocket as quickly as possible.”
“Because of this advance, you will not receive a payment when you complete your next report. This is equivalent to the first two-week period of the advance. Please continue completing reports. This shows that you are eligible for all weeks of the CERB, including the four weeks of the benefit covered by the advance payment,” the message continued.
The notice also informed claimants that CERB would be extended by another eight weeks with a maximum payable amount of $12,000 over 24 weeks, which equals $2,000 per month for 6 months.
Ashley Michnowski, the director of communications for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, explained that CERB was initially intended to be available for a total of 16 weeks to a maximum of $8,000 before the extension.
Because those Canadians who were eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) received an extra $2,000 when the CERB benefit began, they had reached their maximum payable amount in June.
“As a result, starting the week of June 8th, some people would have received their full $8,000 initial CERB entitlement for the first initial 16 weeks and will therefore not receive a regular CERB payment this month,” Qualtrough’s spokesperson said in a statement to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
The minister’s office said eligible CERB claimants will receive money again at the beginning of July at the start of the next pay period now that the benefit has been extended for an additional eight weeks.
“In order to ensure claimants receive the available funding through the extension of CERB, they should continue to complete their biweekly reports,” the statement said.
'CLEAR, CONCISE, AND CONSISTENT DIRECTION'
There was some initial confusion when the CERB benefit was first rolled out in April because some claimants received more money than others.
For example, some people who applied for both employment insurance (EI) and CERB received two payments, even though no one is eligible to receive payments from both programs simultaneously.
As another example, those who were already on EI may have also received more than the initial $2,000 CERB payment when they were switched over to the new program because of residual EI benefits they had already qualified for.
At the time, Qualtrough reassured Canadians the additional deposits were not mistakes and recipients would be contacted about next steps.
“The CRA and Service Canada are working together to ensure that these situations are reconciled and payments do not exceed the maximum amount allowed per individual of $8,000 over a 16-week period,” she said in early April.
“So it won't necessarily be a clawback situation. It might be, but you can’t apply for more than the $8,000.”
However, days earlier Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos created some confusion when he said the double payments were paid retroactively for the four-week period dating back to March 15, the first day people could apply for CERB.
A spokesperson from Qualtrough’s office clarified later that week that individuals who received $4,000 collectively from both the EI and CERB program would be contacted.
Conservative employment critic MP Dan Albas said the confusion and panic some Canadians are experiencing now could have been avoided if they were told what the $2,000 advance was for when they first received it.
“We recognize that during a crisis things happen quickly, but it’s really up to the government to provide clear, concise, and consistent direction,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Albas said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had multiple opportunities during his daily press briefings to bring Canadians up to speed on this issue and to let those people who received extra payments know what is expected of them.
“That would have been the responsible thing to do because ultimately, leaders take responsibility for mistakes,” he said. “And unfortunately, people are now at the end of the month just before the rent comes due, are being told that they will have considerably less support than they were planning.”
NDP MP and employment critic Daniel Blaikie echoed those sentiments when he said that it is “inexcusable” the government hasn’t made more of an effort to provide them with proper notice. He said it would have been easy to put up a reminder about the upcoming reduced payments on the Service Canada website a month ago for people to see when they log in to file their biweekly reports to claim their benefits.
Blaikie also said that he doesn’t understand why the government is reclaiming that advance money now when they have extended the program by another eight weeks.
“There is no need to do this right now,” he said during a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. “They’re [the government] going to collect the money one way or another eventually. Doing it in a way that gives Canadians as much lead time as possible benefits CERB recipients and I don't think it does any harm to the government.”
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Graham Slaughter