A new federal benefit available for workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is receiving praise from some in Saskatchewan, but falls short for others.
The flat-rate temporary income support provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks. Anyone who signed up for Employment Insurance after March 15 is automatically enrolled for CERB.
“I was really quite relieved because in my entire life, or especially since my practice started, it never occurred to me that this would be a reason I wouldn’t be working,” said Sandy Elsaesser, a registered massage therapist in Prince Albert, Sask., said of the pandemic.
Elsaesser said most of her clients began cancelling over COVID-19 concerns in early March. About a week later, her personal practice and sub-contract work at a local spa was halted.
“The state of emergency was called on the Wednesday and I was done work on the Thursday,” Elsaesser said.
While her husband continues to work in an essential service, Elsaesser said the household relies on two incomes. She also wasn’t applicable for EI since she didn’t pay into it.
That’s one of the reasons Elsaesser is eligible for CERB. According to current guidelines, workers who qualify for the benefit must:
- Reside in Canada and be at least 15 years old.
- Have stopped working because of COVID-19 and have not voluntarily quit their job and are not receiving EI regular or sickness benefits.
- Have had income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application.
- Expect to be without employment or self-employment income for at least 14 consecutive days in the initial four-week period. For subsequent benefit periods, they expect to have no employment or self-employment income.
Eligibility concerns for students, seasonal workers
The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour said the CERB is a “really good first step” to support Canadian workers, but added there are others falling through the cracks.
“We know young people, for example university students, who might have made less than $5,000 in the past 12 months, wouldn’t quality,” said Lori Johb, SFL president.
“That’s really unfortunate because this really is a time when they’d be out trying to find work to supplement their income for the upcoming year and this really puts them in a bind.”
The federal government is expected to announce a plan for students in the coming days.
Johb said seasonal workers are also expected to be disproportionately affected, noting those who typically begin full-time work in the spring and summer are likely at the end of their EI eligibility period.
“That’s also really unfortunate because they’re further behind than everyone else because they’ve already been through a whole season of lesser income,” Johb said.
Johb said another consideration are people who may be able to work, but are also need time and income to care for dependents.
“But they’re not ill or their loved ones aren’t ill. Those are people I believe are really being missed in all of this,” she said.
The SFL is currently calling on the provincial government to mandate presumptive Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for workers who contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment.
The SFL noted the Saskatchewan WCB’s current guidelines on covering COVID-19 cases are applicable to a “too-narrow group of occupations” and put too much onus on sick workers to prove they got COVID-19 at work.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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