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This is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and here's how to apply

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

Written by
Time Out Montréal

As of today, you can now apply to the federal government's Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and it's coming not a moment too soon. The landscape these days is shifting quickly, from cancellations and closures to restaurants flipping to dépanneurs for dinners and many more becoming takeout and delivery operations. As all of these things and more occur, they all have one thing in common: People are going without work right now, and they need help to get through this.

Read on for an explainer of what it is, how it works, and how you can apply.

What is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit?

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit is exactly what it says on the tin—a temporary benefit intended to help people working in Canada who have lost all of their income due to COVID-19.  The benefit pays $500 per week, regardless of the previous amount you were earning.  Applications will be opened this morning on Monday, April 6.

Is this different from the Temporary Aid for Workers Program for Quebec?

Yes.  The provincial program was designed for people who were directly affected by COVID-19—that is, people who either tested positive, were given a quarantine order by public health authorities, or had recently returned from outside Quebec.  The program was designed as a stopgap measure for people who couldn't wait for federal benefits, or who might not qualify for those benefits but needed quick access to funds.

If you're not sure which program applies to you, it's far more likely that the federally managed CERB is the way to go.

This is for people who “have lost their income due to the pandemic”. Does that mean this is exclusively for people who are unemployed because of the outbreak? What if I’m still making some money from somewhere (freelancing, side gigs)?

Unfortunately, you don't qualify for the CERB if you have any income at all in the fourteen days preceding your application, or expect to have any income at all for the month or months for which you've applied.  In the past few days, there has been widespread criticism of the CERB for allowing people who have lost a majority of their income to fall through the cracks. In response, the government has deemed that people in the gig economy, as well as contractors and students can apply. Even those who are still working with reduced hours will also be able to apply.

That said, if you have a partial loss of income, you may still qualify for EI regular benefits or sickness benefits, which you can apply for online with Service Canada.

How do I know if I qualify?

In order to qualify, all of the following points must apply to applicants who:
  • reside in Canada
  • are at least fifteen years old
  • have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and not voluntarily left for other reasons
  • are not eligible for regular EI or sickness benefits
  • have earned at least $5000 in the 2019 tax year OR in the twelve month period immediately prior to their application
  • are or expect to be without employment or self-employment income for at least 14 consecutive days in the initial four-week period—for subsequent benefit periods afterwards (follow-up applications), they expect to have no employment or self-employment income.
From what we can tell now, the application will simply ask you to certify that you meet this requirements.  Compliance checks will likely be carried out on some fraction of successful applications at a later time, and people who turn out to have been ineligible will likely be asked to repay the benefit.
There is no requirement that you be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.  As long as you earned the $5000 legally working in Canada—or earned it abroad while legally a resident in Canada—you should qualify based on what we know now.

If I qualify, how long will it last?

Each payment will be $2000, and is intended to last for four weeks.  If you remain out of work after those four weeks, you will be able to renew your application up to three additional times, for a total of sixteen weeks of benefits.

What’s the process for applying exactly? Is there anything I should make sure I have in order for when I apply?

In order to access the application, you'll need to either have a My CRA account with the Canada Revenue Agency or a My Service Canada account with Service Canada.
If you've filed federal taxes in the last two years, you can create a My CRA account—or start the process of regaining access to the one whose password you forgot years ago—here.
Otherwise, if you're eligible for EI, you should be able to create an account with My Service Canada Account here.
We suggest trying to gain access to one of the accounts as soon as possible, before the inevitable rush overloads any servers.

How long do you think it will take before I start receiving the benefit?

Benefits should reach you within ten days of your application, and should be retroactive to the date you became eligible.  Payment is possible by direct deposit or by cheque, but direct deposit is always faster.

What other kinds of benefits are available?

If you've filed your 2018 federal taxes and are normally eligible for quarterly GST payments, you should automatically benefit from an additional GST payment from the CRA, regardless of your employment situation.  This will be equal to the full amount you were already entitled to during the year—in other words, four times the quarterly amount that shows up on your statement—and should be deposited on Thursday, April 9.
  • If you haven't filed your 2018 federal taxes yet, do so as soon as possible, and you should be able to get this additional benefit retroactively.
  • If you've got children, the Canada Child Benefit will also be increased. 
  • If you run a small business, wage subsidies and small business loans are being hashed out, and details should be available soon through your bank.
  • If you're one of the over one million US citizens—dual or otherwise—living in Canada, you will be eligible for the US $1200 Economic Impact Payment being made to all US citizens who filed their US taxes in 2018 or 2019.  If you don't usually file, this is the time to start—most Americans living in Canada won't owe a penny on their Canadian income!
For the rest of us, although tax filing deadlines have been extended to June 1, refunds are still being processed in a timely manner.  If you're due a refund, filing online now will help get money in your pocket quicker.

What do I do if the Canada Emergency Benefit Response doesn't apply to me?

If CERB isn't a fit because didn't lose income specifically due to COVID-19, there's always the Social Assistance Program (read: welfare) run through the Quebec government.  If you're eighteen or older, unemployed, and have minimal assets, you should be able to get some basic assistance this way.
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