Canadians can begin applying for emergency income support benefits Monday, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is also working on ways to help people who aren’t covered by the programs brought in so far, including students.
The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) will give people who lose their source of income due to COVID-19 about $2,000 a month for 16 weeks.
Canadians who are eligible for employment insurance (EI) can apply for that coverage, and will receive CERB benefits for four months before the EI benefits kick in.
The public can start signing up for CERB as of 6 a.m. ET Monday, but Canadians are being asked to apply based on their birth month to avoid overloading the portal.
Applicants born in January through March can apply on April 6, the first day the portal opens. Those born April through June can apply April 7, those born in July through September on April 8 and Canadians with birth months October through December can sign up on April 9.
Trudeau said Canadians can expect to receive payments within three to five days via direct deposit, or within 10 days by mail.
Trudeau also conceded that there are gaps in the program, including for students. To be eligible, applicants must have been working and lost all income.
“This is an issue that we are very, very aware of, from modifications to the Canada summer job program, to looking at direct support for students,” he said.
“We know that we need to do more for people as they come out of university and look for projects and ways of securing income this summer. That is something that we are very closely engaged and should have more to say in the coming days.”
Temporary foreign workers may be in short supply
About 60,000 temporary foreign workers typically come to labour in the agricultural sector, planting, producing and harvesting. The government has allowed an exemption to a sweeping travel ban to allow the workers to enter Canada, but they must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
There have also been reported delays in the process to grant the necessary work visas due to the pandemic.
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Trudeau suggested students and other Canadians out of work could help fill some of those crucial roles.
“We see many, many Canadians out of work who are wanting to help out, students who are looking at opportunities for summer jobs that they might not otherwise have and we know there are many people interested in helping out in terms of feeding this country,” he said.
“So we’re going to be having more to say in the coming, coming days and weeks about how we’re going to pull together and make sure that our agricultural producers, our fisheries, our agricultural transformers are going to get the support they need.”
Conservatives push for changes
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said the government must find a way to enable people to qualify for the benefit, while still working reduced hours. He said the eligibility rules that say applicants must have no source of income effectively ban workers from putting in any hours.
“If they work and earn any money during the period when they’ve received the benefit, they lose the benefit altogether … they’re effectively banned from doing any amount of work,” he said during a news conference on Sunday.
Poilievre suggested applicants should be able to keep the benefit while still working a certain number of hours.
The government is also offering a 75 per cent wage subsidy so employers can keep people on the payroll, but Poilievre said that the three-to-six week wait to apply is too long, and that many businesses will go under before subsidies kick in.
He urged the government to do more to help small businesses stay afloat, including salary compensation schemes for operators and a refund of GST remittances for businesses for the past six months.
The government is also reaching out to people with specialized skills looking to help frontline workers. Health Canada is building an inventory of specialized volunteers that provinces and territories can draw on. These include people with the skills to track cases, trace contacts as well as collecting and reporting data.
Trudeau said the government is also offering full-time jobs to reservists in the Canadian Armed Forces, with the same pay and benefits as regular forces.
“Bolstering the military’s ranks will help offset some of the economic consequences of COVID-19 and ensure that our communities are well supported,” he said.