Income cut off? Here’s how to access the aid you need

Income cut off? Here’s how to access the aid you need
The Canadian government announced an $82 billion COVID-19 economic stimulus package on Wednesday, with $27 billion intended to go directly to workers and businesses. The package includes support not only for workers who are eligible for employment insurance (EI), but also the self-employed, independent contractors or “gig economy” workers who can’t access EI.

Shortly after the announcement the Star spoke to Toronto labour lawyer Andrew Langille, who said he was concerned about Service Canada’s capacity to handle the influx of applications.

“It’s going to be a disaster,” he said, adding that there were already delays in processing EI claims. “The idea that they’re going to be able to handle hundreds of thousands of applications in the space of a week? I think they’ll pull through eventually but it’s going to result in quite big delays in benefits being paid.”

Employment and Social Development Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not it had increased its processing capacity.

Langille said it’s important to apply as soon as possible. Here are answers to other questions you may have about the aid package with Langille offering his advice throughout.

What aid can you get if you’re sick or quarantined?

Anyone who doesn’t have paid sick leave and hasn’t been able to work because they are sick, quarantined or caring for someone who is sick or quarantined can immediately apply for EI sickness benefits, if they are eligible, without the usual one-week waiting period. EI pays 55 per cent of insurable earnings and your employer may provide a top-up on top of that.

Workers who are sick or quarantined who are not eligible for EI can, starting in April, apply for the Emergency Care Benefit, which will provide up to $900 every two weeks for 15 weeks.

No medical notes or certificates are required. “We want this to be as easy as possible so people who need this help can get this help,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Wednesday.

The Emergency Care Benefit does not apply to people who are laid off, but are not sick, quarantined or caring for someone else as a result of COVID-19. People in that position will be covered by the Emergency Support Benefit (see below).

Who is eligible for EI?

In order to be eligible for EI you need to have been paying into it. You also must have worked a certain number of hours in the previous year, depending on where you live. In Toronto, you are required to have 600 hours for EI sickness benefits and 700 hours for regular benefits, Langille said.

“A lot of people who are students or who have caregiving responsibilities, they’re not going to meet that requirement,” he said. “That would have been an easy way to let more people access EI, by dropping the hours requirement temporarily.”

The number of weeks for which you receive the benefit depends on how many insurable hours you have. Langille said EI coverage is not “what it once was” because of the rise of the gig economy and precarious work.

“People are getting less hours, so there’s less full-time regular employment compared to the past,” he said. “If you’re self-employed or an independent contractor you can pay into EI and potentially get benefits, but not many people do.”

What if I got laid off but I’m not sick or in quarantine?

Healthy workers who were laid off, but aren’t eligible for EI, are eligible for the Emergency Support Benefit, for which the government said they have earmarked $5 billion and would provide more details in the near future. The benefit will be delivered through the Canada Revenue Agency and, according to Morneau’s announcement, is expected to provide 14 weeks of support at a “comparable level” to EI, which is 55 per cent of insurable earnings.

How do I apply?

You can apply for EI online through Service Canada’s website. The application will take about an hour to complete.

Langille said you should have your banking information with you so you can select the direct deposit option. “Because you’ll get your benefits faster.” It would be good to have your record of employment, he said, but it’s not necessary.

Applications for the Emergency Care Benefit will be available in April, the government said, and can be made through your Canada Revenue Agency account, your My Service Canada Account or by calling a toll-free number, which they have not yet set up.
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