Trudeau replaces CERB with 3 new programmes and updated EI, but still no UBI

The federal government announced upcoming changes to income support benefits it’s providing to Canadian workers. But something’s still missing.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced upcoming changes to the income support benefits it was providing to Canadian workers.

CERB extension

One thing that Chrystia Freeland, the minister of finance, and Carla Qualtrough, the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, announced was that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (popularly known as CERB) would be extended by an additional 4 weeks, to a maximum of 28 weeks.

To continue supporting workers affected by unemployment, they also announced changes to the employment insurance (EI) programme, as well as 3 new but temporary support programmes.

EI changes

Temporary changes to the EI programme will improve accessibility for applicants until 9 August 2021

For example, normally, a region’s unemployment rate determines the accessibility of EI benefits for workers in that region, including number of hours of insurable employment, number of weeks of EI, and their weekly benefits rate.

With the changes, any region with an unemployment rate under 13.1% will have benefits calculated on a 13.1% rate. Regions above 13.1% will have benefits calculated based on the higher rate.

Here are some other changes to EI:

Old EINew EI
Minimum insurable employment hours420–700420
Minimum weeks of entitlement14–4526
Best weeks of earning14–2214

As well, claimants will be guaranteed $400 per week (or $240 for extended parental benefits), which will be handy for those whose benefits would otherwise be less than this. This should help offset the impact the pandemic may have had on hours worked prior to being unemployed, which otherwise would affect the benefit rate the claimant could receive.

Finally, EI premiums will be frozen at the 2020 level of $1.58 per $100 of insurable earnings, which means that workers who do end up back to work won’t pay more in EI deductions on their paycheques until at least 2022.

Canada Recovery Benefit

The Canada Recovery Benefit will be $400 per week for workers who are self-employed or otherwise not eligible for EI.

To qualify, workers must:

  • be at least 15 years old
  • have a valid Social Insurance Number
  • have stopped working due to COVID-19
  • be available and looking for work, or are working and have had reduced income due to COVID-19
  • be ineligible for EI
  • had income of at least $5000 in 2019 or in 2020
  • have not quit their job voluntarily

Claimants can continue receive the CRB if they get a new job, but must still meet all other requirements. However, once they’ve made at least $38,000 in 2020, they must pay back 50¢ for every dollar over the $38,000, up to the the total CRB received, once they file their taxes.

Recipients must claim this benefit as income when they file their 2020 income taxes.

Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit will provide $500 per week, for up to 2 weeks, and will be available for a year beginning 27 September 2020. Workers who apply for the benefit must be unable to work because they’re sick or must self-isolate due to COVID-19.

As well, recipients must:

  • reside in Canada
  • be at least 15 years old
  • have a valid Social Insurance Number
  • be employed/self-employed at time of application
  • have earned at least $5000 in 2019 or in 2020
  • have missed at least 60% of their scheduled work during the week for which they apply for the benefit

Workers won’t need a doctor’s note to qualify. They also can’t use other paid sick leave for the same period they’re requesting for the CRSB.

Recipients must claim this benefit as income when they file their 2020 income taxes.

Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit

This new benefit, like the others, will be available until September 2021, but to a maximum of 26 weeks per household during that time. It’ll provide $500 per week for caregivers who must provide for one or more of the following individuals:

  • Child under 12 due to school or daycare closures due to COVID-19
  • Family member with a disability or a dependent because their day program or care facility is closed due to COVID-19
  • Any of the above, but who’s not attending school, daycare, or other care facilities under the advice of a medical professional due to being at high-risk if they contract COVID-19

As well, applicants must meet the following conditions:

  • Reside in Canada
  • Be at least 15 years old
  • Have a Social Insurance Number
  • Be employed/self-employed on the day immediately preceding the period they’re applying for
  • Earned at least $5000 in 2019 or in 2020
  • Not receiving paid leave from an employer during the same week
  • Not receiving CERB, EI Emergency Response Benefit (ERB), CRB, CRSB, short-term disability, workers’ compensation, or any EI or Quebec Parental Insurance Plan benefits during the same week

As well, applicants must have been unable to work for at least 60% of their normally scheduled work within a given week because of one or both of the following conditions

  • Caring for a child under 12 years old who
    • attends school or daycare that’s closed or operating under an alternative schedule due to COVID-19
    • can’t attend school or daycare under medical advice due to being at high risk if they contract COVID-19
    • has a regular caregiver that’s unavailable due to COVID-19
  • Caring for a family member with a disability or a dependent who
    • attends a day program / care facility that’s closed or operating under an alternative schedule due to COVID-19
    • can’t attend their day program / care facility under medical advice due to being at high risk if they contract COVID-19
    • has a regular caregiver that’s unavailable due to COVID-19

Recipients must claim this benefit as income when they file their 2020 income taxes, and it’s available to only one household member at a time.

And now about that UBI

Introduced in April, the CERB has provided support for 8.5 million workers, nearly half of which have since returned to work. As of 16 August 2020, 1,036,030 workers in Alberta received the benefit, the fourth largest number in the country (behind Ontario, Québec, and BC). That works out to about 12% of all CERB recipients.

The federal government has spent over $70 billion on the CERB since its implementation this past April.

One thing that this tells us is that funding is always available for something when the need is high, whether that means a pipeline buyout or financially supporting workers during a pandemic.

It also tells us that funds for a universal basic income could be available if the federal government was committed to it.

Jean-Yves Duclos, who is now president of the Treasury Board, said in 2018 as minister of families, children, and social development that “at some point, there will be a universal guaranteed minimum income in Canada for all Canadians.”

In an Angus–Reid poll published two months ago, 3 in 5 Canadians indicated that they support a universal basic income, up from 2 in 5 just 3 years ago. The percentage was roughly the same regardless of whether they were asked about $10,000, $20,000, or $30,000 a year.

For reference, $30,000 would be $2,5000 a month, less than what someone working full-time on minimum wage would make. The 2018 median income in Canada was around $36,400.

The cost of a UBI could range between $15 billion a year to $90 billion a year. We‘ve spent $70 billion on CERB in only 5 months.

The CERB and its 4 succeeding programmes are complicated, requiring multiple applications and having various requirements and restrictions. Implementing a UBI would simplify things.

As well, implementing a UBI would encourage people to go to school for academic and trade areas they prefer rather than simply ones that promise a well-paying job. It could improve the quality of lives for people who contribute greatly to society but are typically under compensated (such as musicians and artists). It could also address homelessness, health issues, and crime by addressing some of the causes of these issues, such as poverty.

For a UBI to work properly, however, it should be accompanied by measures to mitigate the wealthy from exploiting it. Rent controls, for example, could prevent landlords from artificially inflating rental prices. Protecting minimum wage could prevent employers from paying less. Inflation controls could stop large corporations from raising the prices of their products and services as a way to profit off the UBI. And so on.

The Liberals want to move to a UBI. The NDP demand a UBI. Canadians support a UBI.

It’s about time.

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 5 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left. I recently finished writing a book debunking several capitalism myths. My newest book writing project is on the labour history of Lethbridge.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

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