When Canadians were forced to stop work due to the pandemic, many were worried about making rent payments and putting food on the table. In response to the situation, the government launched the CERB, an emergency benefit that provided $2,000 every four weeks to almost nine million people.
The CERB was necessary, however it was only meant to be a temporary solution. As the economy slowly restarts, the government will be transitioning unemployed workers to a modified EI program starting on September 27, 2020. New recovery benefits have also been announced for caregivers and self-employed individuals to ensure no one gets left behind. According to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, an estimated three million people will switch to the new EI system and up to two million are expected to apply for recovery benefits when the CERB ends.
How will EI work once CERB ends?
The simplified EI program makes it easier for residents to access EI benefits. Eligibility requirements have also been loosened, allowing 400,000 more people to join the program.
There are four main changes to the EI program:
New minimum EI unemployment rate: The minimum unemployment rate has been set to 13.1% across Canada. This rate is effective for one year starting from August 9, 2020 and was implemented to help eligible Canadians smoothly transition from the CERB to EI. Thanks to this new measure, you only need 420 hours of insurable employment to qualify for EI. Combined with the hours credit listed below, individuals can qualify for EI with just 120 hours of work. The temporary measure also promises at least 26 weeks of regular benefits if you meet the updated eligibility requirements and uses your 14 best weeks of earnings to calculate your weekly benefit rate.
Hours credit to increase EI accessibility: Normally, you need up to 700 hours of insurable employment to qualify for EI regular benefits. The government understands the pandemic may have prevented you from accumulating enough insurable hours. To address this, EI claimants with at least 120 hours of insurable work will get a one-time credit of 300 insurable hours for regular benefit claims (job loss) or 480 insurable hours for special benefit claims (sickness, maternity/parental, compassionate care or family caregiver). These credits will be available for new EI claims for one year.
The credits are retroactive to March 15, 2020 for people who wanted to transition early from the CERB to EI maternity, parental, compassionate care, family caregiver, or work-sharing benefits but could not do so because of insufficient hours. The qualifying period will also be extended for these individuals.
Modified EI fishing benefits: Self-employed fish harvesters who rely on EI fishing benefits during the off-season can either use fishing earnings from their current claim or fishing earnings from the same season last year, whichever is higher.
EI premium rate freeze: You don’t have to worry about increased payroll deductions as the EI premium rate for employees will remain at $1.58 for every $100 of insurable earnings for the next two years.
How much can I get from the modified EI program?
If you’re eligible for EI on or after September 27, you’ll receive a minimum of $500 per week for at least 26 weeks or $300 per week for extended parental benefits. Average weekly earnings usually determine EI benefit rates, however the pandemic may have severely impacted weekly earnings since March. The minimum benefit rate ensures workers get adequate funding if they lost their job or had work hours cut in the past six months.
How do I know if I qualify for EI and how do I apply?
Once the CERB ends, you’ll automatically transition to the updated EI program if you meet the new eligibility criteria and receive benefits through Service Canada. If the CRA administered your CERB payments, you’ll need to apply for EI through Service Canada.
What conditions do I have to meet while on EI?
You have to submit a report every two weeks to show you’re still eligible to receive EI benefits. Reports are done online using the Internet Reporting Service or by phone at 1-800-531-7555. You’ll need your SIN number and four-digit Access Code from Service Canada to complete the reports. If you work while collecting EI, use the reporting calendar to help you keep track of your hours and earnings.
What happens if you’re not eligible for EI?
The Government of Canada has introduced three new recovery benefits for those who continue to require income support but don’t qualify for EI:
Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB): Self-employed individuals or workers not eligible for EI can collect $500 per week for up to 26 weeks. The CRB follows similar eligibility requirements as the CERB, but allows workers to earn more self-employment income while collecting the benefit. To ensure the benefit is serving those who need it most, recipients will have to repay $0.50 of the benefit for every dollar earned over $38,000 in annual net income. To continue receiving the CRB, workers must apply every two weeks and confirm they’re still meeting eligibility requirements. Recipients must also look for and accept work when it is reasonable to do so.
Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB): Workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19 can get $500 per week for up to two weeks. A medical certificate is not required, however you must have missed a minimum of 60% of scheduled work in a week to claim the CRSB. The benefit is delivered weekly, so you’ll need to reapply and attest you meet the requirements if you seek support for a second week. Keep in mind you can’t claim the CRSB while receiving other paid sick leave for the same benefit period.
Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB): School closures and restricted access to daycare facilities may prevent parents from going to work. To prevent people from having to choose between caring for family or paying the bills, the government is providing $500 per week for up to 26 weeks per household. Two people living in the same household cannot receive the benefit for the same period. Review full eligibility requirements here.
These benefits are taxable and effective from September 27 for one year. Applications are submitted through the CRA. More information about the application process will be announced soon. Check the Government of Canada website for the latest updates.