‘Relieved’: Canadians who have exhausted EI included in post-CERB plan

Click to play video 'Ottawa extends CERB, changes EI, unveils new benefit programs' Ottawa extends CERB, changes EI, unveils new benefit programs
WATCH: New financial aid is coming to Canadians hit hard by the pandemic, as the federal government unveiled three new benefit programs, revamped EI and extended the CERB.

Kerri Neuburger of Abbotsford, B.C. had been waiting for details on the federal government’s transition from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) with unusual trepidation.

The 44-year old human resources and accounting professional says she lost her job in a corporate restructuring just weeks before the novel coronavirus pandemic began to spread across North America.

She made an Employment Insurance claim and started looking for jobs, but just when she was about to sign up for a new position, she says the lockdown came into effect, and the prospective employer rescinded the offer.

Read more: Liberals unveil $37B for CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes

Like thousands of others, Neuburger had to use up her all EI benefits before moving onto the CERB. This meant that, while usually eligible for regular unemployment benefits, she won’t be able to make another EI claim once the emergency benefits program runs out.

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In the run-up to Thursday’s announcement, Neuburger and many others in her situation had taken to social media to ask: Would the federal government remember about them when laying out plans for the transition after CERB?

As of Friday morning, though, Neuburger says she can breathe easy.

“Pretty much what everybody’s feeling is relief right now,” she says.
Click to play video 'Federal government unveils CERB transition plan' Federal government unveils CERB transition plan
Federal government unveils CERB transition plan

An official from the office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough confirmed to Global News that Canadians who were already on EI as the lockdown started in mid-March and have exhausted benefits will be able to transition to the new Canada Recovery Benefit if they continue to be unable to find employment due to COVID-19.

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The benefit will provide $400 a week for up to 26 weeks, or roughly six months. Recipients will have an obligation to be available for work and look for employment while on the benefit.

The new benefits program will be available for self-employed Canadians and others who don’t qualify for EI, including those in Neuburger’s situation, according to Qualtrough’s office.

Recipients will be able to earn up to $38,000 in annual net income from employment or self-employment while receiving payments. Beyond that threshold, they will have to repay 50 cents for every additional dollar earned, like EI recipients need to do when working while on claim.

Read more: ANALYSIS: A looming coronavirus debt crisis could swamp Canadian households

The Canada Recovery Benefit is part of three new benefits program Ottawa envisions in the aftermath of CERB to cover workers who don’t have access to EI. The Liberals also plan to create a Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit for parents taking care of children who can’t go to daycare or school and a Canada Recovery Sickness benefits for those who don’t have paid sick leave. All three programs would remain in force for one year after the CERB ends.

Ottawa’s temporary social safety-net expansion also includes a four-week extension of CERB eligibility and temporary changes that would make EI more generous and easy to access.

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Anyone eligible for EI will get a minimum benefit of $400 a week for at least 26 weeks and will need to have worked 120 hours to qualify, well below current EI requirements, since many Canadians have been unable to work due to the pandemic.

The overall plan is expected to cost taxpayers a fresh $37 billion in funding.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes expected to cost $37B' Coronavirus: CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes expected to cost $37B
Coronavirus: CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes expected to cost $37B

Neuburger says her only concern now is whether the Liberal government will be able to adopt the sweeping changes with a minority government.

“People are just worried that, come September 23rd, it’s not going to pass,” she says.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prorogued parliament until Sept. 23 following the resignation of Bill Morneau as federal finance minister and the WE Charity scandal.

Read more: Senior public servants repeatedly questioned key parts of WE Charity deal: documents

The uncertainty surrounding whether and how the Liberals will be able to adopt the new measures is “a big caveat,” says Ricardo Tranjan, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“At the end of September, in a scenario where the Liberals do not get a vote of confidence, we don’t know what’s going to happen to workers,” he says.

Sources who have been briefed on the government’s plan say the new income supports will be created through regulations, rather than legislation, the Canadian Press has reported.

For small business owners, the uncertainty created by the plan revolves around whether they’ll be able to hire enough part-time staff as they’re allowed to reopen, according to Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

“CFIB’s biggest concern is that a worker can now collect $400 per week for a half-year if they’ve been working a part-time job with three hours a week (or less),” Kelly told Global News in emailed comments.

Neuburger, for her part, hopes she may not even need to tap the new benefits program after all.

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After sending out more than 300 resumes, Neuburger says she landed a job interview just as the Liberals announced the post-CERB plan. She says it’s the first call-back she’s gotten from an employer since the start of the pandemic.