Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government’s decision to expand the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program to include seasonal workers, part-timers, and people who have run out of employment insurance Wednesday morning.
The changes would allow for anyone who has used up their employment insurance benefits (EI) since Jan. 1 of this year, seasonal workers who are out of work due to COVID-19, and those who earn up to $1,000 per month to be able to apply.
CERB was introduced as a way to help workers who lost their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and would not otherwise be eligible for EI. The program provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks.
Critics of the CERB program pointed out some gaps in the aid package that left many different groups of people out from the assistance. Under terms of the program, people who earned more than $1,000 in employment or self-employment income for 14 or more consecutive days within the four-week benefit period of a new claim would not qualify. Trudeau’s government received criticism from opposition parties. The NDP called for a universal $2,000 benefits program, and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he has been calling out these gaps for weeks now.
An issue the government overlooked when first creating CERB is that while many people maintained their jobs, they lost significant hours due to the global pandemic. Many were making some income but not enough to support a living. These part-time and contract workers were not able to qualify for CERB.
The initial CERB package also posed a threat that people would opt out from maintaining and seeking out freelance jobs during the pandemic for fear of no government assistance.
This is something that set the CERB package apart from EI. Someone who was laid off from a full-time job for example, could qualify for government assistance under EI and maintain a part-time job which would ultimately be deducted from the total assistance received from the government.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Wednesday that the federal government is working on ways to ensure these seasonal workers and part-timers who did not previously qualify not be overlooked.
Along with the changes to CERB, Trudeau announced a wage boost for essential workers who make less than $2,500 a month.