Federal COVID-19 Benefits Open for Application, Payments Will Be Made Within 3-5 Days

Federal COVID-19 Benefits Open for Application, Payments Will Be Made Within 3-5 Days
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside his residence in Ottawa on April 5, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) became open for application starting at 6 a.m. ET on April 6. Applicants will receive the payments within three to five days by direct deposit, or within 10 days by mail.

The government is expected to make further adjustments to encompass a broader range of applicants in the coming weeks.

Announced last month as part of the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, CERB provides a temporary relief payment of $500 per week for up to 16 weeks to people who lost their source of income due to the virus pandemic.

The benefit is available to workers who did not voluntarily quit their jobs or who are already eligible for employment insurance (EI).

To prevent overloading the website, applications are accepted on specific weekdays based on the applicant’s birth month. Applicants born in January through March may apply on April 6 and the subsequent Mondays; those born in April through June on Tuesdays beginning on April 7; those born in July through September on April 8 and the subsequent Wednesdays; and applicants born in the last quarter of the year may apply on April 9 or the following Thursdays. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are open to all applicants.

But research by David Macdonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) who has been tracking how well the federal programs benefit laid-off workers, suggests that an estimated one-third of unemployed Canadians are left out of both the EI and CERB programs.

CERB stipulates that applicants must have had a minimum income of $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application. This excludes roughly 175,000 workers who were laid off prior to March 15 from the program, Macdonald estimates. Similarly, an estimated 719,000 Canadians who lost their jobs prior to the pandemic were not entitled to EI benefits.

“[T]here are big issues as the EI and CERB programs try to co-exist which, left unaddressed, could mean hundreds of thousands of unemployed Canadians falling through the cracks,” Macdonald said in a blog on the CCPA website.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre pointed out that the current CERB rules prevent those working reduced hours from applying, and suggested that they be also eligible for benefits while working limited hours.

“If they work and earn any money during the period when they've received the benefit, they lose the benefit altogether ... they're effectively banned from doing any amount of work,” he said during a news conference on April 5.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the limitations of CERB, particularly as it relates to students who are expected to join the job market in the near future.

For now, those with student loans have their repayments and loans automatically suspended until Sept. 30, 2020. Trudeau said more help for students is on the way.

“We know that we need to do more for young people as they come out of university and look for projects and ways of securing income this summer,” he said during a press briefing on April 5.