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Coronavirus relief bill to replace CERB receives royal assent

Click to play video 'CERB is over: What happens now?' CERB is over: What happens now?
WATCH: CERB is over. What happens now?

A bill authorizing new benefits for workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic received royal assent Friday, assuring continued financial support now that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit has come to an end.

Royal assent was granted shortly after the Senate passed Bill C-4 on a simple voice vote.

Most CERB recipients are being transitioned to a more flexible and generous employment insurance regime.

Read more: CERB to EI: What to know about transitioning to the new coronavirus benefits

Bill C-4 creates a new Canada Recovery Benefit for gig workers and others who won’t qualify for EI, as well as a sick leave benefit and a caregiver benefit.

During a technical briefing Friday, government officials estimated that some two million workers will be covered by the new EI regime, while another 890,000 will receive the new recovery benefit.

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As a result of changes demanded by New Democrats in exchange for their support for the bill, the benefits were increased from the originally proposed $400 per week to $500 _ the same as those under the now-defunct CERB.

As well, eligibility for the sick leave benefit was expanded to include not just those who contract COVID-19 but who must stay home due to underlying health conditions or other diseases that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

Click to play video 'NDP MP questions why CERB retroactive rules appear to have changed' NDP MP questions why CERB retroactive rules appear to have changed
NDP MP questions why CERB retroactive rules appear to have changed

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has boasted that the latter change would mean “millions” of Canadians would get paid sick leave, rather than the “thousands” initially contemplated. Government officials estimated that the change would result in about 500,000 more people becoming eligible for the sickness benefit.

The House of Commons approved the bill unanimously earlier this week but it was briefly held up in the Senate by senators frustrated by the upper house’s failure to resume its full functions during the pandemic.

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Read more: Retroactive CERB will still be available despite questions over rules: official

Since mid-March, the Senate has sat only periodically and briefly to pass emergency aid bills.

Sen. Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the Senate, introduced Friday a motion to start “hybrid” sittings as soon as technically feasible.

That would be similar to the House of Commons which has resumed all its normal operations with most MPs participating virtually, including voting remotely.

Gold’s motion on hybrid sittings won’t be debated until the next time the Senate sits on Oct. 27.