Last Content Update: June 26th 2020 @ 9:30am PST
The government has created a new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) to help workers impacted by COVID-19. There have also been changes to Employment Insurance (“EI”). We will try to explain how it works. Things are changing fast and some of the changes are still not clear. As you read this, please remember that things can change and go out of date quickly.
- What is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (the “CERB”)?
The CERB provides money to workers impacted by COVID-19. It is not the same as EI. All workers can apply for the CERB, even people who might not qualify for EI because they work for themselves.
- Do I qualify for the CERB?
To start, you need to meet at least ONE of the following three criteria (not all, just one!)
- You stopped working for a reason related to COVID-19;
- You became eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits on or after March 15, 2020; or
- You were getting regular EI before but your benefits ended sometime after December 29, 2019
On top of that, you must meet ALL of these criteria:
- You earned at least $5,000 in income in the year 2019 or in the 12 months before you apply;
- You are at least 15 years old;
- You are resident in Canada;
- You had a period of at least 14 consecutive days after March 15, 2020 in which you earned no more than $1,000;
- You did NOT quit your job; and
- You are NOT getting other EI benefits right now.
For people who stopped working for a reason related to COVID-19, these rules may seem a little confusing. On the one hand, the rules say you must have stopped working. On the other hand, the rules say you can earn up to $1,000 and still qualify. The government has said that if you meet the rule about earning no more than $1,000, that is also good enough to show you stopped working even though you earned a bit of money.
- What counts as “income”?
The $5,000 that you must have earned can come from:
- Self-employment, meaning you work for yourself; or
- EI pregnancy or parental benefits. Other EI benefits cannot be used to qualify.
Even money you earned in other countries can count.
For example, take a worker who has been on maternity leave and has received only $5,500 in EI pregnancy and parental benefits in the past 12 months. Her leave ended on March 21, 2020 but because of COVID-19, she was told she no longer has a job to return to. She hasn’t been able to find any other work. She could qualify for CERB because her EI pregnancy and parental benefits count as income and she therefore has over $5,000 in income from the past year.
- Does it matter why I stopped working?
People who were on regular EI that ended sometime after December 29, 2019 and people who could qualify for regular or sickness EI benefits now can get the CERB even if the reason they stopped working was not related to COVID-19.
Everyone else can only get the CERB if they stopped working for a reason related to COVID-19. For example, you can get the CERB if you are sick with COVID-19, if you have to stay home to care for kids who are not in school or someone who is sick with COVID-19, or if you were just told there is no work for you right now.
But you CANNOT get the CERB if you quit your job.
- Can I get the CERB even if I have not been formally laid-off? Or if I expect to be called back to work soon?
Yes. You can get the CERB even if your job is not over. For example, you can still get the CERB if your boss just doesn’t have any shifts for you right now, but may call you back to work after this all passes.
You do not need a Record of Employment (“ROE”) to apply for CERB.
- How much income must I have lost to qualify?
CERB claims work in four week blocks from Sunday to Saturday. For your first four week block, you must have at least 14 consecutive days with no more than $1,000 in income somewhere in that period. For any four week block after that, you must expect to have no more than $1,000 in income in the entire block. So you can do a little bit of work and still get the CERB.
For example, consider a worker who got more than $5,000 in EI parental and maternity benefits in the last 12 months. Her EI benefits ended on Saturday, March 21, 2020, but when she tried to go back to work she was told that she can only have one shift a week, which earns her $150.
This worker can get the CERB for the four week period between March 15, 2020 and April 11, 2020. She can show she has a period of at least 14 consecutive days in which she earned no more than $1,000. If she expects to have less than $1,000 in income in the next four week block between April 12, 2020 and May 9, 2020, she can get another four weeks of the CERB.
Keep in mind that if you are not working, but still getting paid, that counts as income. But other social benefits like income or disability assistance from the BC government do not count as income and will not stop you from getting the CERB.
- I stayed home because I was scared to go to work. Does that mean I quit?
Sadly we don’t have a clear answer. There are just too many different cases. If your employer said it was okay to stay home, that is not quitting. And even if your employer did not say it’s okay to stay home, staying home without permission does not necessarily mean you quit.
Right now, the government is just asking people to confirm on their applications that they did not quit. The government is not checking up on people’s answers right now. So if you say that you did not quit, you will likely get the CERB. But keep in mind that the government may start reviewing people’s benefits when things settle down. You might be asked to pay back your benefits later on if the government reviews your claim and thinks that you quit.
- I am not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. Can I get benefits?
You must be living in Canada and you need a current social insurance number to apply. You do not need permanent resident status or citizenship.
- I was not working when COVID-19 hit, but was hoping to start work soon. Now I can’t find work. Can I get the CERB?
If you were on regular EI benefits that ended sometime after December 29, 2019, you can get the CERB as long as you meet the other criteria.
If you did not get any regular EI benefits after December 29, 2019 and you don’t qualify for regular or sickness EI now, you cannot get the CERB.
- When can I apply?
You can apply any time starting April 6, 2020. After your first application, you will need to reapply every four weeks to confirm you still meet the criteria. The window for collecting the 24 weeks of CERB is March 15, 2020 until October 3, 2020. If you were eligible for CERB in this period but didn’t make an application, the last day you can apply to get the benefits you missed is December 2, 2020.
- How do I apply?
The government has a website where you can apply. If you do not have a computer, you can also call 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041 to apply by phone. Because the government expects so many people to apply, they have given everyone a day of the week to apply based on their birthday.
- What do I need to apply for the CERB?
You will need contact information and a social insurance number. Right now, it seems like the government will just be asking people to confirm that they are eligible. But, keep in mind the government can ask for more information later and review claims once things settle down.
- What will I get if I qualify for the CERB?
You will get $500 per week for up to 24 weeks. The amount is the same no matter what you were earning before COVID-19 started.
- How often will I get money?
The CERB pays $2,000 every four weeks.
- Has EI changed because of the CERB?
The EI rules have been changed so that workers who become eligible for regular or sickness EI benefits on or after March 15, 2020 can get the 24 weeks of emergency response benefits before starting their usual EI benefits. The government created a new EI Emergency Response Benefit that is virtually the same as the CERB. Because they are so similar, to keep it simple, we will lump it all together and consider the EI Emergency Response Benefit to be the same thing as the CERB.
- Do I get the same CERB amount even if I could have collected EI under the usual EI rules?
Yes. If you became eligible for regular or sickness EI benefits on or after March 15, 2020, you will first get 24 weeks of CERB at the flat rate of $500. It does not matter if you would have gotten more or less than $500 per week under the usual EI rules. If you are still out of work after getting your 24 weeks of CERB, you can start your normal EI benefits and the usual EI rules will apply. Think of it like your normal EI claim being frozen while you get the CERB.
The usual EI rules still apply now to claims for EI benefits other than sickness and regular EI (for example, pregnancy benefits, parental benefits, and caregiving benefits). People claiming these EI benefits do not get the CERB.
- If I am covered by the EI system, do the same rules apply to be eligible for CERB?
Pretty much, but people covered by the EI system have a few more ways to qualify for the CERB. For example, if you were on regular EI benefits that ended sometime after December 29, 2019, or you could qualify for regular or sickness EI benefits now, then you can get the 24 weeks of CERB even if COVID-19 was not the reason you lost your job.
The other rules, like being at least 15 years old, residing in Canada, and needing $5,000 in income are all the same.
- So do I apply for CERB or EI?
Starting April 6, 2020, there will be a single internet application process for everyone. Just answer a few questions about the work you did and it will direct you to the right place. If you do not have a computer, you can also call 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041 to apply by phone. Because the government expects so many people to apply, everyone has been given a day of the week to apply based on their birthday.
- What if I am already on EI now?
If your EI claim started before March 15, 2020 and hasn’t ended yet, you will continue to get your normal EI benefits. You cannot get CERB while you are getting your other EI benefits, but you may be able to get the CERB once your EI runs out if you are still unemployed.
- What if I applied for EI on or after March 15, 2020, but nothing has happened yet?
Just wait. You will automatically get considered for the CERB. You do not need to do anything else.
- Do I have to look for work while I am getting CERB?
No. The usual EI rules about job searches do not apply to CERB.
- How will my CERB benefits get paid?
If you are covered by the EI system, your CERB benefits may be $1,000 every two weeks instead of $2,000 every four weeks.
- Is the BC government providing any additional benefits for people impacted by COVID-19?
Yes. The BC government announced the Emergency Benefit for Workers. This is a one-time $1,000 payment to workers in BC who qualify for the CERB or EI. It should be available sometime in May. The BC government has other benefits too, like money to help people pay the rent. You can find more information here.
These COVID-19 related benefits from the BC government will not be deducted from the CERB you get from the government of Canada.
- What if I get other benefits like income or disability assistance from the BC government?
You can still get the 24 weeks of CERB from the government of Canada. The CERB and EI will not get deducted from your BC income or disability assistance, at least until the end of June 2020.