Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB): Eligibility Issues and Solutions as of April 3rd, 2020

This memo was sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office on Friday, April 3, 2020. It attempted to do three things in two pages: 1) encapsulate the problems that were emerging with the design of CERB, at the highest level – one of politics and trust; 2) clarify the technical problems with CERB as currently designed; 3) provide fixes for each of these problems. Its goal was to provide ways to expand coverage and protection to income supports available under CERB, which on that date provided $2,000 a month, for up to 4 months, in emergency income support to those who lose their jobs between March 15, 2020 and October 3, 2020.

It follows a brief submitted to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to support the Government of Canada’s rapidly evolving response to COVID-19’s economic implications on March 18, 2020.

Jennifer Robson and I also published a four-pronged approach on March 13, 2020 suggesting how to protect Canadians from the economic storm that Covid-19 is about to unleash. Before Covid-19 struck, 61% of all Canadians who reported they are unemployed didn’t receive any regular UI benefits – 55% of all unemployed men and 68% of all unemployed women at last count (in December 2019). CERB covers a vast number of these people, but significant gaps remain:

— People who have lost significant hours of work, but still have some paid work (the current rule is $0 in earnings for 14 consecutive days in the first 4 week period of application, and $0 for the full 4 week period in the subsequent months of application);

— People who did not have work on March 15, 2020 and did not lose their job for reasons related to Covid-19. This includes people who were already in receipt of EI (and likely to exhaust benefits soon); seasonal workers whose “season” was cancelled; and students; and,

— People who had earnings, but less than $5,000 in the past 12 months.

While I am responsible for drafting this two-pager, it was prepared in consultation with colleagues and subject experts to ensure the solutions were feasible and able to be implemented quickly, to prevent the economy from cratering by providing shelter from the economic storm unleashed by Covid-19 for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable. My colleagues include Jennifer Robson, Laurell Ritchie, Angella MacEwen and John Stapleton. Any errors in boiling things down remain mine, with sincere apologies. None of us are lawyers or have experience drafting laws, but we did our best to point directly to the problems and offer solutions.

We all thank the politicians and public servants who are working tirelessly and with enormous focus amidst in this rapidly changing story.