Any person who applies for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will be automatically approved for COVID-19 financial relief, regardless of whether they qualify for the funding or not, the federal employment minister confirmed on Friday.
As first reported by the Toronto Star, the government isn’t asking people to provide documents proving their income as part of the claims process but it will review the applications’ veracity down the road, Carla Qualtrough said during a daily news conference with federal officials.
“We will, whether it be in the upcoming weeks or at tax time next year, reconcile accounts and make sure people didn’t game the system,” Qualtrough said.
“We will definitely verify income, verify eligibility and it will be offset at least during tax time if not before,” she added later.
The CERB program was designed and created to be a “simple, straightforward automatic process” in order to “quickly” get cash to Canadians who lost their income as a direct result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Qualtrough told reporters.
Had the government built in more “integrity measures” in the system, she said it would have “taken months” to deliver the emergency program, which pays $2,000 every four weeks for up to four months.
The government is leaving it up to Canadians applying for the funding to “honestly” answer the questions in the CERB claims process — something Qualtrough suggested she wasn’t worried about.
“People are more concerned about being overly honest in Canada,” she said. “Our fraud levels just aren’t high and we know this from other government programs.”
READ MORE: Canada lost 1 million jobs in March
According to Qualtrough, the CERB system does contain some “integrity measures” both in the application — like social insurance number verification — and at the back end so the government can verify “if someone had income or didn’t have income” when they applied.
According to the current criteria on the government’s website, the CERB program is open to both Canadians who qualify for employment insurance (EI) and those who don’t, as long as they have lost their income due to COVID-19. For those who became eligible for EI on March 15 or later, those EI claims are to be automatically transferred to the CERB.
To qualify for the CERB, a worker must have earned at least $5,000 in the last year, either not worked or not be expecting to work for 14 days in the initial four-week period, and lost all their income.
For those who qualify for the CERB but have previously applied for EI, claims will be automatically processed under the CERB.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday the government will soon announce how people working reduced hours — down to 10 hours a week or less — will be able to qualify for the CERB.
The government will also address situations in which people are working but making less than they would with the CERB benefit, Trudeau said.
The benefit is taxable and anyone who receives it will be required to report any CERB payments received on their 2020 tax filing, according to the government’s website.
Some Canadians reported receiving two payments of $2,000 this week and Qualtrough said the government is “sorting out” how to reconcile the issue.
“We’ll be in touch with Canadians who have received two payments of $2,000 with details on next steps. You don’t need to reach out to us at this time,” she said.
The government has received 3.8 million applications for the CERB program since Monday and has processed just over 5.6 million claims retroactive to March 15, Qualtrough said Friday.
Canada’s March labour market report, released Thursday, showed the economy lost more than one million jobs last month. The unemployment rate jumped 2.2 percentage points to 7.8 per cent, the largest one-month increase since comparable record-keeping began in 1976, according to Statistics Canada.
-With files from