New COVID-19 benefit promises fast relief during crisis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a new financial support program Wednesday to help workers affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will replace the Emergency Care Benefit and Emergency Support Benefit he announced last week.

The CERB will provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the economic crisis sparked by global outbreak of the pandemic.

The online form to fill out will be available in early April.

“Like I said from the start we will adapt our approach wherever needed,” Trudeau explained in a briefing live-streamed on the APTN News Facebook page Wednesday.

“If you lost your job due to COVID-19, whether you’re full-time, part-time, contract or self-employed, this new benefit will be there for you.”

The CERB would also cover those who are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, and working parents staying home to care for children who are sick or home because of school and daycare closures, Trudeau added.

“And even if you’re still employed but not receiving income because of this crisis… people should start receiving money within 10 days of applying.”

The income is taxable.

The funds come from the $82-billion financial aid package announced a week ago to help the country weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau said the new benefit “streamlines” access to emergency aid after half a million people applied for beefed-up employment insurance (EI) in the past week.

The demand was tying up the phone line and creating frustration, he said.

“I know people are concerned about delays,” the prime minister said. “Families are worried about when they’ll get help. It can be hard to get through on the line.”

Trudeau said government employees were working “around the clock” and being redeployed from other departments to help out.

“In the last 10 days we’ve boosted the team by close to 13,000 people to take your calls, process your claims and get you the support you need,” he said.

“And since last Monday we’ve already processed 143,000 employment insurance claims.”

The CERB also supports employers by helping them keep their employees so they can resume operations as soon as it becomes possible, the government said on its website.

The website said workers already receiving EI regular and sickness benefits should not apply for CERB. But they can apply later if their EI benefits end before Oct. 3, if they are unable to return to work due to COVID-19.

Canadians who have already applied for EI and whose application has not yet been processed would not need to reapply, the website said.

“Canadians who are eligible for EI regular and sickness benefits would still be able to access their normal EI benefits, if still unemployed, after the 16-week period covered by the CERB.”

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.