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How to Apply for the CERB

If you’re one of the millions of people applying for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, we've got you. VICE has answers to all your questions about the CERB.
April 6, 2020, 10:04am
Advice you should read before you apply for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit
Photo by Luis Quintero via Unsplash

(Updated on April 16, 2020 to include more recent numbers, new application information, and how the federal government expanded the CERB to contract and gig workers.)

If you lost your job or are suddenly underemployed because of COVID-19, you’ve probably been waiting for this day. As of April 6, people can start applying for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

And now, the CERB has been expanded to include more people, like freelancers, contract and gig workers, and seasonal workers.

More than 6 million people have already applied, as of April 13. Emergency support for jobless workers from the federal government was first announced on March 11 and the kind of help and the dollar amounts have changed a lot since then. All of this has led to mass confusion. So if you’re thinking about applying for CERB, VICE has answers to your most urgent questions.

What is the CERB and how much money do you get?

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit is temporary income support for people who have stopped working or are working reduced hours because of COVID-19. If you qualify, you are eligible for $500 a week for up to 16 weeks. Payments are made in blocks of four weeks, for a total of $2,000 a month.

The benefit is taxable but the government won’t take the tax off before sending it to you. You will get $2,000 a month that you need to report as income when you get around to filing your taxes for this year and that’s when the appropriate amount of tax will be calculated. This means that you might need to pay some of it back at tax time next spring.

CERB will be available from March 15 to October 3.

If you apply today, and you’ve been out of work since March 15, your benefits will be applied retroactively to the start date of the CERB—March 15. You can’t apply for the benefit after December 2.

Who qualifies for the CERB?

To be able to get the CERB you need to live in Canada and be at least 15 years old and have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN). Your work must have been reduced because of COVID-19, or you are eligible for EI (regular or sickness benefits), or have exhausted EI regular benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020. If you quit your job, you’re not eligible.

The CERB now includes people who are earning or expect to earn up to $1,000 per month (before taxes and including tips and royalties), seasonal workers facing no jobs, and people who have run out of EI since January 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on April 15. Student loans and bursaries do not count as employment income and should not be included in the $1,000. Applications will be verified against tax records.

The CERB is also for parents who are away from work to take care of children or other dependents because of a school or daycare closure.

You also need to have made at least $5,000 from employment, self-employment, government benefits, or a combination of these, in the past 12 months before your application date.

Should I apply for Employment Insurance (EI) if I qualify for it?

If you’re eligible for EI and you haven’t yet applied for it, you should apply for the CERB instead because EI regular benefits and sickness benefits are now being merged with the CERB system. This migration was announced by federal finance minister Bill Morneau on March 25. As of April 6, you don’t have a choice between the CERB and EI.

What if I already applied for EI?

The 2.1 million people who applied for EI (regular or sickness benefits) between March 15 and April 5 will have their claim automatically moved over to the CERB system. This won’t eat into your EI weeks, though—those are suspended until you go through all of your CERB benefits.

If you make less than $54,200 that means you will be getting more money through the CERB. But if you make more than that the CERB support will be less (up to $70 less weekly based on the maximum EI benefit).

People who applied for EI before March 15 will stay in the EI system for regular or sickness benefits under all the same rules. Nothing changes.

Lisa Stam, an employment lawyer with the Toronto-based firm SpringLaw, said if you’re already in the system don’t make things worse for everyone by applying for the CERB. “Doubling anyone’s work isn’t to anyone’s benefit and it could slow down your own application if you tried this,” she said.

If you are eligible for other EI benefits (maternity or paternity leave or worksharing for example) you can apply here; that process hasn’t changed. If the job that you expected to return to after your parental leave is no longer available, then you can apply for the CERB.

Do freelancers qualify for the CERB?

Initially, the CERB didn’t apply to freelancers who were still making some money. That’s because you needed to be out of work for at least 14 days in a row during the first four-week benefit period and then expected to have no income. But under the new rules you can make up to $1,000 during the first month (or expect to make less than that amount before taxes).

I’m not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Do I qualify for the CERB?

Yes, as long as you live in Canada, have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN), and meet all the other eligibility requirements. The minimum income of $5,000 does not have to be earned in Canada.

Does the CERB apply to students who no longer have a summer job?

If you’re among the more than 1 million students who had a summer job lined up that fell through, you’re not eligible for the CERB—yet. The exception to this is students who have made at least $5,000 in the past 12 months.

According to a recent report by Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist with RBC, many students won’t meet that threshold. “Given the costs already faced by new graduates during bad economic times, the lack of guidance from the federal government is concerning,” he wrote.

Stam said that there may be other exceptions too, based on the start date of your job. “For seasonal workers or students who were anticipating a job during the summer, they don’t yet qualify for the CERB. But if they got a job and were supposed to start July 1, for example, and it stopped July 1 because it doesn’t exist anymore, I would say they qualify then,” she said.

Trudeau said the government is working on more aid to help people who aren’t being helped by the CERB, including students.

What if I’m getting the wage subsidy through my employer?

If your employer is applying for the government’s 75 percent wage subsidy offered to businesses whose revenues have fallen at least 15 percent in March compared to a year ago (or since January or February of this year).

“It is designed to be one or the other. The wage subsidy is intended for people who are still earning something,” said Stam. “There’s only so much money in the pot so we can’t have double-dipping.”

There is a 3-6 week wait to apply for the federal wage subsidy and that means you may be in limbo during this time, wondering if your employer qualifies.

I get support from the provincial government. Will this cancel out or eat into the CERB?

No, the CERB allows you to continue to receive provincial or territorial aid at the same time as the federal emergency relief benefits.

How do I apply?

You can apply online or by phone. If you want your money faster, you should sign up for direct deposit through the CRA by phone or online (all the info you need is here). You can also sign up for this service through your bank.

When should I apply for the CERB?

Because there will be millions of people trying to apply at the same time, there are guidelines on when you should apply based on your birth month. If you were born in January, February, or March, you can apply on Mondays; Tuesdays are for people born in April, May, or June; Wednesdays are for July, August, or September birthdays; Thursdays are earmarked for people born in October, November, or December. And Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are a free-for-all.

When will I start getting paid?

You can expect benefits to start flowing within 10 days of your application, according to the government’s site. There is no waiting period. Payments will be faster if you have direct deposit set up (within 3-5 days according to Trudeau), as opposed to waiting for a cheque to arrive.

Do I have to re-apply for the CERB?

Yes, you need to apply every four weeks. You can find more information here.

Anything else?

Adjust your expectations. Although the overall application process for the CERB has been pretty smooth for people applying online, getting through to someone on the phone if you need help has been slow.

Stam said this calls for kindness when you’re dealing with government workers who are on the frontlines in the coronavirus pandemic. “I just cannot imagine being a Service Canada worker now. Their phone calls must be misery all day long. I hope people applying for the CERB are patient with those poor workers because they must be overwhelmed,” she said.

Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.

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