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Emergency Response Benefit program extended by eight weeks

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The federal government is extending the eligibility period for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) by eight weeks. - 123RF Stock Photo

The federal government is extending the eligibility period for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) by eight weeks.

The CERB is a taxable, $2,000-per-month benefit available to Canadian citizens who have made at least $5,000 in the previous year, who make less than $1,000 a month and cannot work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is available from March 15 to Oct. 3, 2020, but, until now, could only be collected for a maximum of 16 weeks.

With the end of the 16-week eligibility period looming for many Canadians who obtained the benefit from Day 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday those who still can't work or are unable to get a job can keep getting the benefit for an additional eight weeks.

“When this crisis first began a lot of people lost their jobs overnight. They didn't know how they were going to feed their families or pay their bills,” Trudeau said.

“Over the past few months, Canadians have been able to count on the CERB to help them get through a tough time. The reality is even as we start to reopen, a lot of people still need this support to pay their bills while they look for work.”

There are still more people out of work than there are jobs available, Trudeau said, estimating that approximately 3 million Canadians are still looking for employment.

“We’re now in a place where we're gradually starting to reopen parts of the economy, but I'm not going to sugarcoat it, we still have a long journey ahead. Some sectors may bounce back more quickly than others. Many workers will be able to find work, but others won't.”

Review of program coming

Trudeau said in the coming weeks the federal government will look at international best practices and monitor the economy as well as the progression of the coronavirus to see what, if any, changes need to be made to the program so more people are properly supported.

“I want to be very clear with Canadians, the goal here is to make sure the CERB is working for you in the best way possible.”

The government also announced Tuesday it will make changes to the CERB attestation that will encourage Canadians receiving the benefit to find employment and consult Job Bank.

Meanwhile, a bill tweaking the eligibility for the CERB is stalled in Parliament, as the minority Liberals failed to gain support among any of the opposition parties.

If passed, the bill as drafted would change the eligibility criteria for the CERB to disqualify anyone who has declined a reasonable job offer or refuses to return to work when it is reasonable to do so, and proposes penalties — including steep fines or jail time — for anyone who fraudulently received CERB payments.

There would also be penalties for claimants who continue to receive the benefit but fail to return to work when reasonable to do so or who decline a reasonable job offer.

All parties are asking for various concessions or changes to the bill in exchange for their support.

“We knew moving forward with our bill would give us further measures to encourage people and to make sure that people were taking work when it came up,“ Trudeau said Tuesday.

“We're still looking at ways of moving forward to encourage people to look for work and to make sure they're taking jobs when they become available.”

The federal government has paid out $43.5 billion in CERB benefits as of June 4.

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