Millions of workers have abruptly become unemployed or had their hours dramatically reduced through no fault of their own since the coronavirus crisis shut down non-essential services across the country,
Many of these workers are self-employed or part of the gig economy with little or no access to traditional benefits through the employment insurance system. Others have become infected with COVID-19 or need to care for family members who have the virus and are unable to work for long periods of time as a result.
The federal government first introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) as part of a larger economic response plan to help people who fall into the above categories, but it has since broadened the program to include all Canadian workers who have lost their jobs. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday indicated it would further expand to include people who are still working but at reduced work hours.
The benefit is $2,000 every four weeks (or $500 a week) for up to 16 weeks and covers the period from March 15 to October 3. Here’s what you need to know to get the CERB.
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Broadly speaking, you have to reside in Canada, have a Social Insurance Number, be at least 15 years of age and have earned at least $5,000 over the past 12 months. Non-permanent residents and non-citizens are also eligible for the benefit as long as they meet the above criteria.
If you’ve been laid off or had your hours reduced to less than 10, regardless of whether you’re employed or self-employed, you’re eligible for this benefit.
You also qualify for the CERB if you are quarantined because of COVID-19, or have to care for a family member who has the virus, with or without a doctor’s note.
The benefit also applies to parents or guardians unable to work because they have to take care of children as a result of daycare and school closures.
On your first CERB application, you have to have been out of work for 14 days during the period in which you’re applying for. For example, the benefit is backdated to March 15, so you’ll make the cut if you’ve been out of work from March 15 to March 31.
For subsequent CERB applications (you have to apply every four weeks to keep receiving the benefit), you have to be out of work for the four-week period in which you’re applying for. For instance, you can re-apply if you were laid off on April 1 and don’t expect to be back at work until May.
Who doesn’t qualify?
You don’t qualify for the CERB if you’ve voluntarily quit your job or if you’re already receiving EI benefits for the same eligibility period.
How do I apply?
You can apply for the CERB as of April 6 on the Canada Revenue Agency’s secure My Account portal or over the phone through an automated phone service. The government has, however, encouraged applicants to set up an online account with the CRA, rather than rely on applying by phone, which is prone to longer-than-expected wait times.
If you’re applying by phone, call one of these two numbers: 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041. Be ready to provide your SIN number and postal code for an agent to verify your identity.
In order to streamline the entire process, people are encouraged to apply on specific days. You should apply on Mondays if you’re born in January, February or March; Tuesdays if you’re born in April, May or June; Wednesdays if born in July, August or September; and Thursdays for those born in the last three months of the year. Anyone can apply on weekends.
What if you already applied for EI and are waiting for that cheque to arrive?
If you’ve already applied for EI because you lost your job due to COVID-19 before the government announced the CERB plan, your application will now be merged into the CERB system. You don’t have to do anything to apply for the CERB this week.
If you’re already receiving EI because you were unemployed prior to March 15 due to reasons unrelated to coronavirus, it’s the status quo: you’ll keep receiving EI cheques for as long as you’re entitled to them.
When do I get paid?
Pretty soon. The federal government is encouraging applicants to set up direct deposit because you’ll get your money within three to five business days after applying, as opposed to 10 business days if you opt to receive the CERB via cheque.