Government struck correct chord with CERB

Dan Albas

As I write this week’s report from Ottawa, we have just finished a special all-night session of Parliament passing Bill C-13, An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19.

Despite some initial challenges and delays, it was reassuring to see we were able to reach consensus.

As much as I would like to share the contents of this bill with you, it is more important to share with you a program that was enabled by the passing of measures in C-13.

This program is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced two COVID-19 Employment Insurance-like programs: Emergency Care Benefit and Emergency Support Benefit.

It became evident that, despite the best intentions of these programs to help Canadians most in need, they were creating many gaps that would result in Canadians not getting the help they needed at a critical time.

As a result, these programs have now been rolled into a single Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that has significantly increased criteria to help eliminate the gaps from the previously announced programs.

CERB is a taxable benefit that can provide $2,000 a month, for up to four months, to workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CERB is intended to cover citizens who have ”lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.”

This program applies to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance.

Another important aspect is that the CERB program will also apply to “workers who are still employed, but are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19.”

Once the online application portal is open through a My CRA or My Service Canada account, and a toll-free number, the intent is that eligible applicants would begin to receive their CERB payments within 10 days of application.

A CERB payment would be made to applicants every four weeks.

I commend the federal government for recognizing the programs they announced last week were not the response that Canadians needed and for coming back with a simplified, comprehensive and, it is my hope, effective solution.

However, the greatest challenge that still remains is the capacity of government to deliver this program to Canadians most in need, in a timely manner.

Close to one million Canadians have applied for EI benefits. The challenge is, at that current pace, it will be close to six weeks before the current claims alone can be processed.

As the Official Opposition, we continue to raise the need to increase capacity to deliver these much-needed services and also to raise concerns if there are those who are still falling through the cracks.

Dan Albas is MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameeen-Nicola. Email: Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca. Phone: 1-800-665-8711.