Canadians who exhausted EI confused about eligibility for Canada Recovery Benefit

When the application process for the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) opened on Monday, Oct. 12, Peter Loranger of London, Ont., was ready.

But when Loranger, an unemployed forklift operator, logged onto his My Account page with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), one of the eligibility criteria in the online application for the benefit stumped him.

Read more: ‘Relieved’ — Canadians who have exhausted EI included in post-CERB plan

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 for Loranger is neither description captures his situation. That’s because he lost his job before the pandemic.

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“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.”

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Several Canadians who have exhausted their Employment Insurance (EI) benefits have reached out to Global News saying they are confused about whether they can claim 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.

Read more: 240,000 Canadians applied for new coronavirus benefit on 1st day, Trudeau says

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The official guidelines on the CRB also appear to leave the door open to Canadians in Loranger’s circumstances. 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 provides $500 a week for up to 26 weeks, or roughly six months, to jobless Canadians who do not have access to EI and is part of three new benefits Ottawa rolled out in the aftermath of the CERB.

The Liberals 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.

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

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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 used up their benefits would be able to transition to the CRB if they continue to be unable to find employment due to COVID-19.

Read more: Canadians applying for new coronavirus benefits face technical issues

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. “The Canada Recovery Benefit, 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.”

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However, the CRA, which administers the CRB, has more than once used language that creates confusion about whether Canadians who recently ran out of EI can indeed access the CRB.

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In the press release announcing the launch of applications for the CRB, the agency said: “The CRB provides $500 per week for up to 26 weeks, to workers who have stopped working (emphasis added) or had their employment/self-employment income reduced by at least 50% due to COVID-19.”

The CRA did not provide comment by deadline.

Unlike the current CRB guidelines, the eligibility criteria for the CERB, which has now ended, explicitly include workers who had 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 August 30 to September 26, 2020.

Read more: Canadians forced to miss work due to coronavirus can apply for federal financial support

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.”

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Loranger is still holding out hope the plan also includes workers like him.

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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