Major changes to CERB, EI announced

Emergency benefits extended for 1 month, new 'recovery' benefits introduced

Major changes to CERB, EI announced
Ottawa has announced it is giving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) a four-week extension, to a maximum of 28 weeks.

The federal government has announced it is giving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) a four-week extension, to a maximum of 28 weeks, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue.

Back in June, the feds had announced the benefit would be available for a further eight weeks.

The program has helped more than 8.5 million people, says the government, which says it will transition people who have been receiving the CERB to a “more flexible and generous” employment insurance (EI) program that has additional features and tools.

“As we carefully and gradually reopen parts of our economy, we are transitioning to more nimble and flexible programs that will help get Canadians back to work, while ensuring we are able to quickly respond to any further labour market impacts due to the ongoing pandemic,” says Carla Qualtrough, minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion.

The EI program will now be available to more Canadians, including those who would not have qualified for EI in the past, adding more than 400,000 people. Beneficiaries will be eligible for a taxable benefit rate of at least $400 per week, or $240 per week for extended parental benefits, and regular benefits will be accessible for a minimum of 26 weeks.

The government will also freeze the EI insurance premium rates for two years, so Canadian workers and businesses will not face immediate increases to costs and payroll deductions due to the additional expenses resulting from the pandemic, according to the government.

The Manitoba government has called on Ottawa to change the CERB so it does not penalize Canadians wanting to return to work as the pandemic subsides.

But a recent report from C.D. Howe suggests that there is no clear evidence that the CERB is disincentivizing jobless workers to search for and begin new jobs.

Also, to help Canadians qualify with a minimum of 120 hours of work, the federal government says EI claimants will receive a one-time insurable hours credit of 300 for claims for regular benefits due to job loss and 480 insurable hours for claims for special benefits, including sickness, maternity/parental, compassionate care or family caregiver benefits.

The hours credit will also be made retroactive to March 15, 2020 for claimants who were looking to transition early from the CERB to EI maternity, parental, compassionate care, family caregiver or work-sharing benefits but could not establish their EI claim due to insufficient hours. For these claimants, the qualifying period will also be extended.

The hours credit will be available for new EI claims for one year, in recognition that labour market conditions remain uncertain and will take time to stabilize, said the government.

Unifor welcomed the federal government’s announcement.

"It is important that the transition from the CERB be seamless and painless for workers who have not regained employment. Today's changes address many of the problems we've helped identify for the federal government," says Jerry Dias, Unifor national president.

"Today's changes are a relief for many workers in the short term, but EI has been so badly broken for so long that a full overhaul of the system is still absolutely critical. These temporary changes, critical now, have to guide more comprehensive improvements to EI that will benefit workers for generations to come."

Other programs
The government is also proposing to implement three new benefits:

  • The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) will provide $500 per week for up to two weeks, for workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19.
  • The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) will provide $500 per week for up to 26 weeks per household, for eligible Canadians unable to work because they must care for:    
    • a child under age 12 due to the closures of schools or daycares because of COVID-19
    • a family member with a disability or a dependant because their day program or care facility is closed due to COVID-19
    • a child, a family member with a disability, or a dependant who is not attending school, daycare, or other care facilities under the advice of a medical professional due to being at high-risk if they contract COVID-19.
  • The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) will provide $400 per week for up to 26 weeks, to workers who are self-employed or are not eligible for EI and who still require income support and who are available and looking for work. This benefit will support Canadians whose income has dropped or not returned due to COVID-19.

The federal government has previously set a temporary minimum unemployment rate of 13.1 per cent for all EI economic regions across Canada effective retroactive to Aug. 9.

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