Trudeau promises more Canadians will be covered by COVID-19 emergency benefit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded today to criticism that many Canadians are falling through the cracks of emergency COVID-19 benefits, promising more help on the way for students, people working reduced hours due to the pandemic and struggling businesses.

During his daily briefing Monday, Trudeau said 240,000 people had already successfully applied for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), which opened to applications at 6 a.m. ET today, reportedly without a hitch.

Trudeau said there will be adjustments to the program to include people such as gig workers, contractors or volunteer firefighters who work 10 or fewer hours per week.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office said Monday that everything seemed to be going smoothly in the first few hours of the portal opening for CERB, which is being managed by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Hundreds of thousands of applications are expected to flood the system in the coming week, and the system is prepared to handle millions of claims.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is giving a daily briefing at 11:15 a.m. ET today. Watch it here.

During a news conference in Regina Monday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the government must find ways to break down the barriers for certain people, including those who don’t qualify because they work even a small number of hours each week.

“We need an assistance program that will allow workers to meet market needs,” he said.

Current eligibility criteria requires a recipient to have lost all income for at least 14 consecutive days in the last month. After the initial month, they must have no source of income.

That means someone who works even dramatically reduced hours each week does not qualify.

To be eligible, someone must also have to have been working and had to stop because of COVID-19, which means full-time students do not qualify. Trudeau said Sunday the government is looking at ways to address that, including possible direct income supports.

Wage subsidy program worries

The Conservatives have also been hearing complaints about the proposed wage subsidy program, Scheer said, which will give employers up to 75 per cent to cover an employee’s salary. It’s expected to be up and running in three to six weeks, but Scheer said that is too long for businesses teetering on the edge.

The government has said it will recall Parliament soon to pass legislation on the wage subsidy. Scheer said he has not yet heard when that would occur, but suggested the House of Commons should hold regular sittings with a reduced number of MPs in order to hold the government to account.

By covering up to $847 a week per employee, the goal of that program is to keep people on the payroll to facilitate a quick rebound when the pandemic subsides.

But a survey carried out by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found that many members are skeptical it will help them retain staff.

Of the 8,892 members who responded to the online questionnaire, 29 per cent said it would help, 37 per cent said it wouldn’t and 21 per cent said they aren’t sure.

The CFIB is calling on the government to repeal a requirement that businesses show a 30 per cent decline in revenue compared to the same month last year, and to have a way that includes new or rapidly growing firms.


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