Canada Child Benefit Would Have Cost $1.1B More Without Pandemic Supports: PBO

Canada Child Benefit Would Have Cost $1.1B More Without Pandemic Supports: PBO
The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Aug. 10, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Giordano Ciampini)
The Canadian Press

The parliamentary budget office estimates the Canada Child Benefit program would cost $1.1 billion more over the 2021-2024 fiscal years if pandemic supports had not been paid out to families and the employment insurance program had not been interrupted by COVID-19.

The report, released Wednesday, focuses on the effect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Recovery Benefits had on child benefit payments to families. It provided costing estimates for several scenarios.

The program would have cost the government $1.45 billion more if CERB and CRB payments were not considered income in assessing a recipient's eligibility, the report said.

The child benefit was introduced by the federal government in July 2016 as a tax-free means-tested benefit.

The estimates extend to the 2023-24 fiscal year because the program is based on a recipient's prior year's income, said an office spokesperson.

The effect in 2023-24 is quite small, and most of the cost effects occur between 2021-2023, since the majority of federal pandemic benefits were received in 2020.

“It is important to note that families who experienced a reduction in (child benefit) payments were not made worse off by receiving pandemic benefits,” the office said.

Also, if pandemic benefits did not count toward the child benefit income test, families who received pandemic benefits would have seen their child benefit payments increased.

The CERB gave $74.1 billion in financial support to 8.9 million people who lost employment or income between March and October 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CRB paid out $28.4 billion to more than 2.3 million people who did not qualify for employment insurance between September 2020 and October 2021.

Earlier on during the pandemic, child benefit recipients were surprised to see their payment size shrink after receiving pandemic supports.

This was because those emergency benefits were counted as income for the purposes of calculating benefit amounts. As incomes rose, benefit values dropped.

The PBO said it based its calculations on social policy data from Statistics Canada, administrative data from Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada, and the federal public accounts.

By Erika Ibrahim