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CFIB calling on federal government to close loophole in EI benefits (update)

Some could make more through EI than they did while working

Documents obtained by online Ottawa-based news outlet Blacklock's Reporter show staggering amounts of money were given to teenage workers through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). 

The requirements to qualify CERB said that recipients had to be 15-years-old, and had earned $5,000 in the year prior. If qualifying applicants lost their job due to COVID-19, they would be eligible for $500 per week, even if that job was part-time and didn't pay nearly that much.

For some, losing their job meant getting paid more, raising concerns of deincentivized job hunting.

The documents obtained show the Canada Revenue Agency paid out over $635 million to teenagers through the CERB. Those teenagers did nothing wrong, as they simply qualified for the money.

"While the CERB program has ended, the government has made the same mistake," said Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. "They've now put this program under the Employment Insurance (EI) system. So, people who have lost their jobs, even if they had a part-time job as a 15-year-old, and worked three hours a week on average over the past year, they will now qualify for $500 a week in benefits."

The difference is that EI has a requirement that applicants be actively searching for work, though Kelly is not sure how well that is being enforced with high levels of unemployment.

"I'm not even opposed to paying part-time workers that are students, if they've lost their job, to pay them a benefit out of the Employment Insurance system. But Certainly that benefit shouldn't be more than they made while employed. That's the part where this starts to get crazy."

A solution proposed by the CFIB would be to only pay benefits based on what workers were making before being laid off. That information is already on the government's records, according to Kelly.

570 NEWS reached out to the Canada Revenue Agency for comment, and received this response:

"Yes, we can confirm 317,990 applicants between the ages of 15-17 received CERB.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was specifically designed to provide millions of Canadians with payments quickly and easily. The CERB application processes are similar to the tax return process for self-assessment. The applicant must attest that he or she meets the eligibility criteria for the application and, after the fact, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may verify the information that was submitted.
In order to be eligible for CERB an applicant must:

  • reside in Canada;
  • be at least 15 years old at the time of the request;
  • have earned income of at least $ 5,000 (before taxes) in the past 12 months or in 2019 from employment income, self-employment income, or provincial benefit payments related to maternity or parental leave
  • stopped working because of COVID-19.

The CRA has robust safeguards in place to identify and prevent high risk or potentially suspicious applications for emergency and recovery benefits. Throughout the lifespan of the CERB program, we adjusted the program with new measures and controls to address any suspicious activity."

570 NEWS reached out the Ministry of Finance and Employment and Social Development Canada for comment, and received this response:

"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Government of Canada remains committed to providing certainty to people who are out of work or working less hours.

Employment Insurance (EI) regular benefits provide temporary income support to unemployed workers while they look for a job. Regular benefits are available to individuals who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and are available and looking for work. Benefits are not available to people who voluntarily quit their job. People applying for EI regular benefits, including students, must demonstrate that they are capable and available for work for each day that they claim benefits, and they must continue to seek employment to maintain their eligibility for EI benefits.

EI benefits are only available to workers if they have paid premiums in the past year and meet the eligibility criteria. Since September 27, 2020, a set of temporary measures were introduced by the Government of Canada to facilitate access to EI benefits. These temporary measures include a minimum benefit rate of $500 per week in recognition of the extraordinary circumstances workers face.  

The EI program also provides special benefits to workers who take time off work due to specific life events (illness; pregnancy; caring for a newborn or newly adopted child, a critically ill or injured person, or a family member who is seriously ill with a significant risk of death). Self-employed workers may also participate in EI and receive special benefits.

The Government of Canada has also introduced three temporary recovery benefits to provide support to workers when their employment is affected by COVID-19, including the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit. The CRB is available to workers who are not employed or self-employed for reasons related to COVID-19 and are not eligible for EI, or are working and have had a reduction of at least 50% in their employment/self-employment income for reasons related to COVID-19. Among other eligibility criteria, individuals applying for the CRB must be available and looking for work, and must accept work where it is reasonable to do so.

This is a really difficult time for many workers in Canada. The Government of Canada remains committed to supporting workers through a variety of channels so that they can continue providing for themselves and their families."

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