Canadians who ran out of EI eligible for Canada Recovery Benefit, government confirms

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) says it will update the wording of a question on its online application for the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB).

The decision comes after Global News indicated the phrasing was creating confusion for some jobless Canadians who have exhausted their Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

“People who currently cannot find a job because of COVID-19 and meet the requirements may claim the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). The CRB, similar to the EI program, requires that claimants are available and looking for work and they must accept work when it is reasonable to do so,” the CRA said via email.

But one of the questions in the agency’s web-based application for the benefit was raising questions as to whether applicants had to have lost work — as opposed to being unable to find employment — because of reasons related to COVID-19.

When Peter Loranger, an unemployed forklift operator from London, Ont., logged onto his My Account page with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), says he was stumped by the question.

The system prompted Loranger to select the option that best described his situation during the period of his claim. The choices were “you stopped work for reasons related to COVID-19” or “you have had a reduction of at least 50 per cent in your employment income or self-employment income for reasons related to COVID-19.”

The trouble is Loranger, who has used up all his EI benefits, believes neither description captures his situation. That’s because he lost his job before the pandemic.

“In my situation, the reason I am not working is because I can’t find a job; and it is 100 per cent related to COVID-19,” Loranger wrote in an email to Global News. But, he adds, “clearly I have not ‘stopped working’ due to COVID-19.”

The CRA told Global News it will edit the application question “shortly” to “clear up any ambiguity that applicants may have.”

The CRB provides $500 a week for up to 26 weeks, or roughly six months, to Canadians who can’t work or have experienced a significant income drop due to COVID-19 and do not have access to EI.

In August, an official from the office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough told Global News that Canadians who were already on EI as the lockdown started in mid-March and have exhausted their benefits would be able to transition to the CRB if they continue to be unable to find employment due to COVID-19.

Qualtrough’s office confirmed this continues to be the case.

“People who have exhausted their EI, who currently cannot find a job because of COVID-19 and meet the requirements may claim the Canada Recovery Benefit,” Qualtrough’s office said via email.

But several Canadians in Loranger’s circumstances reached out to Global News, saying they were hesitant to apply for the CRB after reading the online application.

The phrase “stopped work” is different from the wording used in the legislation that introduced the new post-CERB benefits, which uses the words “were not employed or self-employed” for reasons related to COVID-19.

The official guidelines on the CRB also differ from the phrasing used by the CRA. The CRB web page on the Canada.ca website uses the wording “you were not working for reasons related to COVID-19.” There is no reference to having “stopped working.”

The CRB is part of a multi-billion suite of income support programs the Liberal government introduced to continue to support workers after the end of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Along with the CRB, Ottawa also created a Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit for parents looking after children who can’t go to daycare or school and a Canada Recovery Sickness benefit for those who don’t have paid sick leave.

All three programs are set to remain in force until Sept. 25, 2021.

The federal government has also temporarily beefed up the traditional EI system. Anyone eligible for regular unemployment benefits will get a minimum of $500 a week for at least 26 weeks and will need to have worked 120 hours to qualify, well below the usual EI requirement, since many Canadians have been unable to work due to the pandemic.

But Canadians like Loranger, who have exhausted their EI entitlements and haven’t been able to work since the start of the pandemic, are not eligible to make another EI claim.

Unlike the current CRB guidelines, the eligibility criteria for the CERB, which has now ended, explicitly mention workers who have recently run out of EI unemployment benefits. The benefit is available to those “who have stopped working because of reasons related to COVID-19 or are eligible for Employment Insurance regular or sickness benefits or have exhausted their Employment Insurance regular benefits or Employment Insurance fishing benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020,” the webpage reads.

Canadians can still apply for the CERB retroactively for the period from Aug. 30 to Sept. 26, 2020.

The Trudeau government has described its three-pronged recovery benefit program as a comprehensive safety net that would catch anyone left out by the EI system.

“Together, these Recovery Benefits fill gaps in the way Canadians qualify for income support, ensuring access to all Canadians who are unable to work due to COVID-19 so that no one is left behind,” Qualtrough said. “If you cannot work, and still don’t qualify for the simplified EI, there is support available to you, tailored to your specific needs.”

Some 240,000 Canadians applied for the CRB on the first day it became available, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

An estimated 4.7 million Canadians were receiving the CERB in August.

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