The federal government will automatically move the 2.1 million Canadians who have applied for employment insurance benefits since March 15 to the government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit program, a move that could see many EI beneficiaries get more money every week.
The move is being done by a government less concerned with elegant program design and more concerned with getting money out the door fast.
That means that someone who applied for and started receiving an EI benefit after March 15 of, say, $350 a week, will, as soon as next week, start receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) worth $500 a week. But it also means that those receiving the maximum employment insurance benefit of $573 a week will get a pay cut, down to the CERB level of $500 a week.
“All of the individuals who would have received less than five hundred dollars, we are bumping them up to that five hundred amount,” Cliff Groen, an assistant deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada told the House of Commons finance committee Thursday. “So they may have received $350 last week and this week and a good number of them — over 100,000 thousand (processed) last night — we bumped them up to there to their actual payment amount of $500. And those who have not yet been done will certainly be done in the coming days.”
That bump is also automatic – no need for those who have already applied to EI to re-apply.
And while EI beneficiaries are receiving CERB payments, they will not be using up any EI-eligible weeks for payments. Those “EI weeks” are suspended. That means that if an individual comes to the end of the CERB benefit period of four months, the individual could resume receiving EI benefits for however many remaining weeks that person was eligible to receive benefits prior to getting a CERB cheque. The maximum number of weeks an individual can receive EI benefits varies from 14 weeks to 45 weeks in most cases and is based on regional labour force characteristics.
Those who had applied for and were receiving an EI benefit prior to March 15 will stay — at least for now — in the EI stream and continue to receive the benefits they’ve been receiving as per EI rules that were in place at the time they were approved.
In his testimony to the finance committee, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, along with officials from the Canada Revenue Agency, Employment and Social Development Canada, and the department of finance, acknowledged that the design of some relief programs may not be seen by some as fair or adequate. But, as Morneau said Wednesday, the government is trying to set up and deliver programs in a week that, in normal times, might take a year or more to design and implement.
Some of the pre-March 15 EI beneficiaries could have been financially better off with the CERB, for example. There is some acknowledgement among government officials that there will be an attempt to correct those inequities once the programs are up and running.
It is not known how many current EI beneficiaries will get a raise with the move to the CERB, nor is it known how many will get a pay cut with a move to the CERB.
The federal government expects that as many as four million Canadians will be receiving the $500/week CERB cheques within a month of the program’s activation on April 6.