Ottawa will move CERB recipients to modified EI in $37B program

OTTAWA—The federal government is rolling out a $ 37-billion package that will extend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit by four weeks before replacing it with a “simplified” Employment Insurance scheme and three new payment programs to help people out of work during the pandemic crisis.

But while the EI changes can be made through regulations, the Liberal minority government will need to pass legislation before the new programs are created, senior officials said Thursday.

Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament this week, that means the government won’t have a chance to table a bill until after it delivers a Throne Speech on Sept. 23 — and only if it survives a subsequent confidence vote in the House of Commons.

Newly named Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the plan Thursday alongside Carla Qualtrough, the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion.

The $ 37-billion package will extend the eligibility period of the $ 500-per-week CERB by a month to a maximum of 28 weeks. That will cost an estimated $ 8 billion, according to senior officials who briefed journalists on the changes Thursday.

After that, the government expects about 3 million CERB recipients to transfer to a tweaked EI system that will be in place for one year, the officials said.

The new scheme is scheduled to start Sept. 27, and will pay out a minimum of $ 400 per week for at least 26 weeks. Canadians are eligible if they worked at least 120 hours in the previous year and can’t find work.

This new cost will add about $ 7 billion to annual EI costs, officials said.

For those who aren’t eligible for EI, such as gig or self-employed workers, the government will create a new program called the Canada Recovery Benefit that will pay out $ 400 per week for up to 26 weeks. Officials said they remaining 1 million people currently receiving CERB to shift over to this benefit.

There will also be a new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit for people who stop working because they’re ill or must self-isolate due to COVID-19. They can get $ 500 per week for two weeks.

Finally, the government plans to create the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit for people who stop working to care for a family member because their school or daycare is closed during the pandemic. Officials said people can qualify for this if their family member is told by a doctor not to attend. The caregiving benefit is set to pay out $ 500 per week for up to 26 weeks, per household.

The government expects these three new benefits to cost about $ 22 billion and will pay them out retroactively started Sept. 27, officials said.

The CERB, which is slated to run out in the coming weeks, had paid out more than $ 68 billion to 8.5 million Canadians as of Aug. 9, government data shows.

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Alex Ballingall

TORONTO STAR