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End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others
Canada
OTTAWA—In mid-March, Christine Ilott’s manager broke some bad news to her: She was losing her job in live theatre as a result of the pandemic .

The 47-year-old went home to her basement apartment north of Toronto, walked down the stairs, sat down and took off her shoes. She glanced up the staircase and thought, “I don’t know when I’m leaving here next.”

“And for me, that was absolutely devastating because I love my job. I love working in theatre. And it just broke my heart.”

As she has searched unsuccessfully for work, and with no sign of theatres reopening in the next few months or longer, she relied on the $500-a-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Now, she, like millions of others, will lose the payments as the CERB winds down starting this weekend.

In its place is employment insurance, which the government says the majority of people will go on, and a new suite of benefits that won’t exist unless approved by Parliament.

Ilott, isn’t sure if she’ll be automatically transferred to EI, have to apply anew, or have to wait for the new benefits. She’s spent the weekend figuring out what to do.

All she is sure of is that she won’t have any income come Monday.

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people, or roughly two in every five members of the nearly 20.2 million-strong labour force in August.

Benefits were paid up front, which won’t be the case for Ilott and others in the first wave of those being transferred to the new system: The government says the first payment will come the week of Oct. 11. About 80 per cent are expected to receive payments by Oct. 14; a further 10 per cent within the first two weeks.

The $500-a-week floor on benefits in EI, or $300 per week floor for new parents using the extended-leave option, will be taxable. Jobless benefits through this EI program will be available for at least 26 weeks, and claimants will be allowed to earn more than they did under the CERB, up to $38,000 annually, before being completely cut off.

Employers will also be allowed to use “supplemental unemployment benefits” to top up EI payments.

The threshold to qualify for EI has been reduced to 120 hours of insurable work for those coming back into the system that has been nearly dormant since March.

The government says 2.8 million people will qualify for EI as of Monday. But many, like Ilott, may not do so automatically.

Ilott remembered calling a number to sign up for the CERB. She didn’t remember if it was Service Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency that she spoke with.

Anyone who applied for and received the CERB through Service Canada and is eligible for EI is supposed to be automatically transitioned over to employment insurance.

Anyone who applied and received the CERB through the CRA would need to apply anew for EI, if they qualify. Others who will have to apply to Service Canada are those with temporary 900-series social insurance numbers and self-employed workers who receive benefits through Service Canada.

Ilott planned to make calls and search online for answers this weekend to figure out what she needs to do. On Friday, Service Canada was warning about long wait times on the phone, with record volumes expected at call centres.
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