Jordan : I’m starting recording. Are you ready?
Claire: Hold on. I got all tangled up. I move too much.
Jordan : See, I wish I was recording that.
Claire: I can’t move at all in this blanket.
Jordan : You’re untangled?
Claire: Yup. For a few seconds.
Jordan : Okay, then let’s do it now. Okay. Raise your hand if you understand the federal financial aid for people impacted by COVID-19, and for the record, my hand is the opposite of up.
Claire: Ah, yeah. You can’t see it, but my hand is not up. And I mean, I’ve been reading all about this, trying to figure it out, for our listeners and also figure it out for myself. But I mean, there’s so many moving parts to this. There’s announcements almost every day. There’s different dates, numbers, big numbers in the billions.
Jordan : It took, I think about a week or so of a plan replaced by another proposal, replaced by something that would be in a bill and then shouldn’t be in a bill and would hold up the bill, but it seems to have been settled and passed. So that means that aid is coming. That’s good. Other than that, I have a million questions and so does basically everybody I’ve talked to you about this.
Claire: Yeah. I think my biggest question, and yeah, probably most people’s question is, who qualifies for this? And who qualifies for what? And if you do qualify for something, how do you apply? When do you get the benefits? How long do these benefits last? I mean, I guess I still have a lot of questions.
Jordan : Yeah. Well that’s why we’re going to the best guy that we know for explaining really complicated government policy. But first we’ll go through the best woman we know for complicated and often depressing news, and Claire, that’s you. Where are we?
Claire: The US is floating around the idea of having American soldiers near the Canadian border to stop any illegal migrants from entering the country because they could spread the disease. Here’s what Canada’s deputy Prime Minister, Christina Freeland, had to say about that.
News Clip: Canada is strongly opposed to this US proposal. This is an entirely unnecessary step, which we would view as damaging to our relationship.
Claire: In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is slamming price gougers. He specifically called out Pusateri’s, which is a high end grocery store in Toronto, for selling disinfectant wipes for $30. That’s about three to four times what they would usually cost. And he had a message for anyone doing this kind of thing.
News Clip: And it’s such a small, small group of bad actors out there that are doing this. Like, just common sense, you run a business, you want that reputation for your company? That you’re gouging the people in the middle of a crisis like that? It’s unacceptable. It’s absolutely unacceptable. So we’re gonna, it’s already on the cabinet agenda, we’ll have an order moving forward, and we’re going to come after them hard, anyone who, who wants to try to gouge the public, so it’s a clear warning. If you plan on gouging, we’re going to catch you and you will be charged.
Claire: And speaking of bad actors, we’re still seeing COVID-19 scams popping up. Prime Minister Trudeau is warning people of a text message scam. It reads something like, “The emergency response benefit has sent you a deposit,” and it has a link to click on in it. Trudeau is reminding people don’t trust these kind of text messages. That’s not how your money will be delivered. And all reliable information is on the government’s website.
Jordan : All right, here is the headline: $2000 a month, for four months, for everyone that needs it. That’s a good headline. But how does it work? Who gets it really? How much of it do they get? How quickly can they get it? What options do they have if there are problems? And all of that is not in the headline. But it is in the legislation. And so today, all those questions, with plain answers right here. So that if you need this money, you know how to get it as soon as you can and you can qualify for as much as you can get. That plain enough? All right, let’s get to it. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Cormac Mac Sweeney is the Parliament Hill reporter for City News, for Rogers Radio, and for us, and he’s a very busy man these days. Hello Cormac.
Cormac: Hello Jordan.
Jordan : Why don’t you start, because we’re just going to get you to explain stuff to us today, by explaining how the government’s assistance plan has evolved, because me and Claire were talking and we both feel like we’ve heard like three or four different plans over the past couple of weeks.
Cormac: Yeah. I mean, the government’s announced a series of different measures to try and help businesses and Canadians. And the initial response, it was more geared towards businesses and trying to pump money into COVID-19 research and the development of a vaccine. And then, as we moved along, people started to see businesses shut down. The economic impact really started to hit, and the government promised last week that it would be unveiling a huge assistance plan. $82 billion was the initial price tag that they had put on this for businesses and Canadians, saying, look, there’s still more to come after this, but this is what we’re announcing right now. And the big thing out of that was that the Prime Minister said there would be new benefits for Canadians who are suffering financially because they’re out of work right now due to this pandemic. Whether it be restaurants shutting down or other businesses that are having to close. Maybe as well some parents who have to take time off work. Maybe they’re working an hourly wage at the moment, and the kids are at home because schools are shut down and daycares are shut down and they just simply can’t work that shift work. Well if they’re suffering because of that, there were going to be two different benefits that would help those types of Canadians. And they said they would have the emergency care benefit and the emergency supports benefit. But then when the bill finally came out, after much debate in the House of Commons between the opposition, and the government, over issues around how much the government should be allowed to spend without parliamentary approval and for how long they would be able to do that, eventually, we finally got this bill and it was announced that the benefits for Canadians have basically been streamlined and merged. So those two different benefits that the Prime Minister announced for workers, is now one benefit called the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit. So that’s basically where we are right now. And that’s the big benefit that we’ll be talking about because that’s what matters to a lot of people who are out of work right now as a result of this crisis.
Jordan : So explain exactly what it is and what it will look like to the average Canadian who’s either out of work and we’ll talk about that, but also, maybe just not seeing the hours or the gigs that they might usually.
Cormac: Yeah. And I, I think the important thing to note out of all of this is that this benefit is for people who have lost their income, that they are no longer making money. It’s not just that they’re losing some of their income. It’s that they have lost their income, so they are no longer working. And the benefit is basically a set amount of about $2000, I shouldn’t say about, it is, $2,000 a month for up to 16 weeks. That’s four months. And the government has said that this benefit would be backdated. So it’s retroactive to March 15th. And that’s when we really started to see the major economic shutdowns take place. And it will continue up until October 3rd of this year.
Jordan : Explain what you mean by saying, that is what it is, because I think everybody’s used to government aid packages sort of being dependent on what your income was before or how much you’ve lost or how much the other person in your family possibly makes. So is this like, is this either nothing or $2000, or is there a scale here?
Cormac: Yeah. So you know, people look at, you know, if you have to take time off work, and you’re, and you’re receiving a parental benefits or something like that, that’s based on your income of the previous year, and as you point out, it could work on a sliding scale. That’s not what the CERB is. This is one benefit that is totally separate from employment insurance, but it is, in a way, helping Canadians who are out of work at this time. It is a flat amount of $2,000 a month for up to 16 weeks. And I will say that that’s more than what they had initially announced. Initially it would have counted up to about 1800. But when the bill actually came forward, it was a little bit more. So basically, it’s not replacing employment insurance. It’s kind of a different benefit altogether. And it goes beyond just what employment insurance is because it also applies for people who normally wouldn’t qualify for employment insurance. If you are receiving employment insurance right now, you’re not going, you don’t need to apply for the CERB and you won’t be getting it. If you’ve applied for employment insurance, but you haven’t been processed yet, you will be applied for the CERB, so there’s no reason to reapply for the CERB at the moment. Some of the qualifications for this is that you had to have at least earned $5,000 in 2019 or in the year before the application, you had that amount of money, when it comes to self-employment or maybe maternity or parental benefits or you know, even the Quebec parental insurance plan. So, you know, you do have to qualify in a certain way in terms of the amount of money you made back in 2019. But you can still get this. And it is separate for from EI in the sense that as well, let’s say you go on this, you’ve lost your job. You’re a worker who’s not employed at the moment, and moving forward over the next four months, your work does not reopen. Well after the, you know, the end date of October 3rd, if you’re still stuck in that scenario, you can then apply for employment insurance and get that after the CERB. So this is a little bit different because it is separate from employment insurance. It applies to more people than employment insurance would. And it does allow you to access employment insurance after you’re done the benefit, should you still be stuck without a job. I will also note that if you do get a job while you are on the CERB and receiving it, you would cease to then qualify for it. So if you’re out of work for April and May, then if you get a job, let’s say at the end of May, then you shouldn’t be receiving the CERB again after that point.
Jordan : You mentioned a couple of things that I want to ask for a little more detail on, which is that you have to have lost all your income and that it applies to people who normally wouldn’t qualify for EI. So a couple of examples that I’ve thought of and that I’ve heard people I know asking about are, say, somebody who was working part time 30 hours a week and saw those hours cut to 10? Or a freelancer who relies on, you know, freelance writing or freelance design and is used to getting $3,000 or $4,000 a month from that all of a sudden now has one gig for a few hundred bucks, but not total loss of income? What happens to them?
Cormac: If you have not totally lost income, but you’ve suffered a reduced income as a result of COVID-19, you do not apply for this benefit. I did have to ask some officials about this because, you know, this is moving in a rapid pace. There have been a lot of changes over one week. So it’s tough for everyone to sort of wrap their heads around this. And I think there has been some unintentional misreporting around this, and some confusion because things were still sort of changing and being worked as we went along. But the official word that I got recently from an official within the finance minister’s office is that if you have reduced income, you will not be allowed to apply for the CERB. You do not qualify for it. You must not be making income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Which means that, you know, there are a lot of people who may be stuck in a situation where they are still employed, they are still working, but they’re not receiving as much money back. And so, you know, they’re still having a tough time and they won’t get this benefit as a result. Now, there is a scenario as well where you’re still technically employed, but you’re not receiving income. And that’s something that the government sees this CERB as on top of a different wage subsidy that they’ve already announced for small businesses, and businesses that are suffering through this, they see this as sort of a wage subsidy directly to employees. So let’s just, you know, put it out there. A restaurant has closed and you have a server, well, that server is still employed by that restaurant unless the restaurant decides to lay off that that employee. Let’s just say the owner of this restaurant decides not to lay off that employee saying, once this all blows over and restaurants are open again, you’re still going to be part of my waitstaff, uh, in that scenario, they wouldn’t be making money, but they’d still technically be employed. Those people would be able to get the CERB as long as they’re not receiving income.
Jordan : And if I’m a freelancer then, that’s only making a little bit of money, maybe I just refuse those gigs so that my income has disappeared.
Cormac: And that could be a scenario as well. The other thing that I will point out, you must have had to cease work due to COVID-19, not have any other income. If you’re sick, if you’re quarantined, or you’re taking care of someone who is, you qualify for the CERB as long as you’re not making income during that time. You need to have had no income for 14 consecutive days to apply for the CRB. If you’re a parent who has to stay home without pay to care for your children, you apply you, you can qualify for the CERB. And if you are still employed, as we just went over, but not being paid, you still can get the CERB. Again, it all comes down to not getting income. But that’s an area that you pointed out there where if you’re a freelancer and you have the choice not to take contracts in order to get this, that is something that I guess would be your choice as well. When you do apply for this, online applications aren’t open yet, but when you do apply for this, the government has made it clear they don’t need a doctor’s note. They don’t need that. They’re sort of trusting Canadians at this time of crisis to do the right thing and tell the truth when they’re applying for the CERB. But I would say that most of the layoffs that are happening right now are a direct result of this crisis. Because look, in the last week alone, we had nearly 1 million Canadians apply for employment insurance. That is a stunning number. That is just, you know, that that is a record breaker. We’ve never seen anything like this before. And so, you know, if the government was all of a sudden gonna ask for doctor’s notes for those who had been quarantined or forced into self-isolation or forced, you know, justification for why someone’s been laid off and tried to investigate that, that would bog down the system. And what the government wants to do right now is get money in the pockets of Canadians as quickly as possible for those who really need it the most.
Jordan : You mentioned that applications haven’t opened yet. When do they open? Where will people apply? And how soon will the money start flowing? Because we’re coming up on April 1st and that’s a pretty critical date for a lot of people that need money right now.
Cormac: Yeah. So people who are really getting nervous right now about paying their rent on April 1st, unfortunately, this benefit will not come in time for them. The government had said last week when it announced this benefit, that they were aiming for early April for the applications. And they clarified that a little bit after the legislation was approved in the House of Commons and the Senate and got Royal Assent and became law. They’re aiming right now, and it’s not a set date, but they’re aiming for April 6th in order to open up online applications. And this would be through an online portal through the Canada Revenue Agency. So the same way that you would probably file taxes, or if you had to apply for maternity or parental benefits, or if you had to apply for employment insurance, that’s the same system that would be taking in these applications for the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit. They’re hoping to get the money out within 10 days of receiving and processing the application.
Jordan : That is fast for a government.
Cormac: That is really, really fast, and there are some questions about whether they can actually do that. I know the union for Shared Services Canada has expressed doubt that, you know, this will even happen within that timeframe for those Canadians who are out of work because they wonder whether we have the manpower at all to process the amount of claims that are coming in. They’ve expressed concerns that in the lead up to this, there was already a backlog of employment insurance claims, let alone, you know, the 1 million employment insurance claims that came last week, and the many more that are expected to come through the CERB. The government, the Prime Minister has said, that they’re going to be now moving employees who have the skills that they’re looking for from other departments in order to start processing these claims as quickly as possible. So the government feels confident that it can hit that 10 day mark if it just basically subs on a bunch of other employees to come in and do this work to help out those who would normally be processing these claims. Whether that ends up happening or not, I guess that remains to be seen, but it seems like the earliest Canadians can expect to see this money in their pockets, this $2,000 for the month, or $1,000 every two weeks, would be April 16th.
Jordan : So for Canadians who’ve lost their job, aside from this $2,000 CERB what else is in this bill that caught your eye? Cause I saw a MPs waving it around and it was huge.
Cormac: Well, you know, there are a couple of things. I mean, you know, there are the politics of it all the, the government sort of has more spending powers that it could have to try and address this crisis moving forward. But, you know, those are discussions that I think don’t impact regular Canadians who are suffering right now. There are some other measures that have been passed by this government that will help Canadians, especially those who may, you know, maybe you’re not in a situation where you’ve lost your job. You’re not going to qualify for the Emergency Relief Benefit, but you might need a little bit of extra help. A lot of parents are working from home right now and dealing with toddlers or little ones running around causing a lot of stress. Um, parents might need some extra cash because what would normally be taken care of through other means like school, you know, they might be spending more money as a result of keeping their kids at home. Those families will get a little bit of help, the Canada Child Benefit is getting a temporary boost of about $300 per child and those payments will start going out in May. There’s also a little bit of extra help for low income Canadians through the GST tax credit. They are going to see a boost as well, an average income boost of about, I believe it’s somewhere around $400 for the individuals, and if it’s a couple, they could get an extra $600. Those changes as well for the GST tax credit, will start in May. Finance Minister Bill Morneau did say to reporters that, you know, for single parents, this could be a lot of money and extra supports. This could be a combined up to $1,500 in supports for some single parents, you know, coming in May. So that could be a huge help at a time that could be very, very stressful. Especially if you are a single mom or a single dad. You’re trying to work from home right now. You may have one or two kids around you that are probably causing a lot of stress in your life at the moment.
Jordan : Indeed.
Cormac: This sort of takes some of that stress off. Another interesting thing is that the income tax deadline is being postponed. This was previously announced as well, but Canadians, you know, normally right now we’d all be discussing how much money we might get back in taxes, trying to go over all those numbers. There’s a lot of stress in people’s lives right now, and especially for businesses. And so both businesses and individuals now have until August 31st to, or until June 1st, to file their taxes. And then if they owe taxes, they have until August 31st to pay them. There’s also going to be a moratorium on the repayment of federal student loans. That’s going to be interest free and it’s going to be for six months. So if you’re a student right now, you’re worried about paying your student loans back at the moment, that can be taken off the table for six months, so you don’t have to worry about that. And the government has promised as well that there will be more announcements in the future. One thing that was asked of the Prime Minister was, what about seniors? You know, there are a lot of people who are looking at their retirement savings sort of dry up right now, and I think they’ve allowed, they’re making some changes to dipping into the retirement savings for seniors. And I don’t have all of those details off the top of my head. I apologize about that. But the prime minister did say that there would be more on the way to try and help seniors right now who are seeing their savings dry up as a result of that, or people who might be about to retire or forced to retire as a result of this whole thing. So, more help is on the way. This is, as the Prime Minister and the government have said, this is just a first step. And I’m sure, you know, much of the help moving forward will still be scrutinized by the opposition and Canadians as a whole, but we’ll have to wait and see what it is that the government has planned.
Jordan : Thanks for joining us today, Cormac, and helping us explain that and stay safe out there. I know you’re busy.
Cormac: Not a problem.
Jordan : Cormac Mac Sweeney is a very busy man on Parliament Hill these days. And that was The Big Story. If you want more from us, we’re at thebigstorypodcast.ca. We are in every podcast player you could hope to use, but we want to hear from you. As you know, at the end of every episode, we’re playing a clip from a listener or a friend of the podcast. We just want to know what you’re up to, how you’re coping, what you’re doing. Are you just wishing for the time to pass quickly, or are you taking it upon yourself to do something constructive? No judgment either way. This podcast is the only constructive thing I do. You can use the voice recorder on your phone to send us an audio clip. You can also just record a video and we’ll take the audio from that and you can email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also, of course, find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryfpn. Here’s today’s listener.
Josh: Hi, this is Josh from Burlington, Ontario. And both my wife and I are teachers, so we were going to be all many ways. So we’re doing what we had planned on doing this week, which is get the nursery ready. My wife is due in nine weeks, and obviously there’s a lot to get done. We’re going to have some extra time to do it now. But we’re just getting the whole house ready. Nursery, cleaning things out, organizing closets, making as much space as we can in our condo.
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