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He applied for the CERB once and got $3,500 in 3 weeks, but Ottawa says it’s not an error

Coronavirus outbreak: Is the government considering making application for the CERB universal?
Speaking tor reporters on Friday, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau was asked if the federal government was considering making application for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) open to any and all applicants.

After he was temporarily laid off due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, William Don Falconer says he submitted a single application for federal income support through Service Canada. And yet so far, the government has sent him $3,500 in the span of three weeks.

That’s far more than Falconer thought he would receive under either employment insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

READ MORE: Got a CERB double payment? Here’s what to do

Falconer, who is based in Vancouver and was until recently working as a hotel manager, is one of several Canadians who have taken to social media or contacted reporters to flag what they thought were overpayments that aren’t connected to mistakes in the application process.

The government, though, says there’s nothing to worry about.

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“Canadians who apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) through Service Canada and the Employment Insurance program, and meet the eligibility requirements, will receive an initial payment of $2000. They will then be paid $1000 every two weeks based on their biweekly reports submitted,” Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) told Global News via email.

“Due to the timing of the release of the $2000 initial payment and depending on when claims were finalized, some clients may already have received their first payment, or even their first two payments for the CERB. These clients would also have received the initial $2000 payment, as an advance of weeks to be paid later on in their claim.”

CERB expands for part-time, contract, seasonal workers
CERB expands for part-time, contract, seasonal workers

Still, no one will receive more than 16 weeks’ worth of benefits for a maximum amount of $8,000, the government reiterated.

“There have been no errors with payments related to claims established through the EI system,” ESDC said.

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The CERB provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to four months to Canadians, whether employed or self-employed, who lost most or all of their income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications opened on April 6 for the period between March 15 and April 11, with Canadians able to apply for the following four-week period — from April 12 to May 9 — starting on Monday, April 13.

Some Canadians who have received more than $2,000 from the government during the first week are wondering what to do next.

READ MORE: No job and no more EI — but she can’t access the new COVID-19 benefit

But the only issue Ottawa has flagged so far is with benefit recipients who received two identical payments of $2,000. These Canadians likely applied twice for the CERB, once through Service Canada and once through the Canada Revenue Agency, and received more than they are entitled to, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough said on April 10.

Canadians are not eligible to receive both EI and the CERB at the same time.

Canadians who became eligible for EI before March 15, will receive EI. If they became eligible for EI on or after March 15, they’ll be automatically enrolled in the CERB.

New CERB to offer Canadians more money than EI
New CERB to offer Canadians more money than EI

Those who made the mistake of applying for income support twice should expect a call from the government, Qualtrough said. Although it’s not clear yet how the federal government will handle these overpayments, the minister said it won’t necessarily be a clawback.

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“We’re still getting a handle on how many of these double payments actually happened, which were completely driven by confusion by applicants of the need to apply once or twice,” Qualtrough said.

READ MORE: When he lost his income amid COVID-19, Spring Financial gave him a loan but no cash upfront

Those in Falconer’s situation, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about paying the money back. However, they face a different set of challenges: budgeting and confusion, according to Falconer.

Speaking before Global News had heard back from ESDC, Falconer said he understood he would not be receiving more than $8,000 for four months.

“The way I’m looking at it is, ‘OK, well, I’ve got $3,500 of my total $8,000,'” he said.

But others he has been speaking to who are in a similar situation seem to expect they will be receiving $3,500 a month, he told Global News.

Falconer is concerned many Canadians will have a rude awakening in 2021 when they file taxes and discover they owe more than expected because the government isn’t withholding taxes at source on CERB payments.

“It’s going to be even worse if everyone owes an extra $2,000 or if everyone who is expecting these payments to go for 16 weeks [finds out they will only] go for 12 weeks.”
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