The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect. Nearly half of Canadians say their work situation has been affected by the downturn. The good news is there’s financial help available. But there’s a lot of information out there, some of it conflicting, and the situation continues to evolve. It can be challenging to make sense of it all. Here, we break down the key financial supports for workers affected by the pandemic.
You’re no doubt wondering: Which benefits can I get? We can help you figure out which benefits you’re eligible for, and the steps to take action.
A snapshot of the four main supports
The federal government has announced plans to phase out the Canada emergency response benefit and transition to a simplified employment insurance program, effective September 27, 2020. Visit the federal government’s website to learn more about the transition.
Employment insurance (commonly called EI) is the federal government’s program to help people who are out of work. Two of the supports available to workers affected by the pandemic are part of EI, and two are new emergency programs.
- The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is a $2,000 payment every four weeks, for up to 28 weeks. It's available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also available to workers eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits, and those who have recently exhausted their EI benefits.
- Those who have lost their job through no fault of their own can get EI regular benefits for 14 to 45 weeks.
- Those not able to work because of illness, injury or quarantine can get EI sickness benefits for up to 15 weeks.
- Those approved for the CERB or who stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020 can also get the BC emergency benefit for workers, a one-time $1,000 payment.
It’s important to understand that you may be eligible for more than one of these financial supports.
Canada emergency response benefit (CERB)
The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB as many call it) is intended to help all those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to covering those laid off from their job, CERB is available to workers whose hours have been cut, are sick with COVID-19, or are quarantined. It’s also available to workers who:
- are taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19
- must stay home from work without pay to care for kids who are sick or need additional care because of school or daycare closures
- might not qualify for EI because they work for themselves or are contract workers
- were receiving EI benefits until recently, and are unable to find a job because of the pandemic
To qualify, you must meet one of these three criteria:
- you stopped working or had your hours cut for a reason related to the coronavirus pandemic,
- you could qualify for EI regular or sickness benefits now, or
- you received regular EI benefits after December 29, 2019 but your EI claim has now ended.
As well, you must meet all these criteria:
- you are a Canadian resident,
- you are age 15 or older,
- you made at least $5,000 in income in 2019 or in the 12 months before you apply, and
- you have not received more than $1,000 in income from work (before taxes) in the last four weeks.
The CERB benefit provides $2,000 every four weeks, for up to 28 weeks. If you qualify, you can get payments backdated to March 15, 2020.
If you stopped working on or after March 15, it's CERB now and EI later. Think of it like your EI claim is being put on pause while you use up your CERB benefit.
Employment insurance regular benefits
The federal government has announced plans to transition to a simplified employment insurance program, effective September 27, 2020. It will be easier to qualify, and the minimum rate of benefits will be higher. The federal government’s website explains the plans in detail.
If you’ve been laid off from your job due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may be eligible for EI regular benefits. These are temporary payments made to those who lose their job through no fault of their own.
To qualify, you must:
- in the last 52 weeks, have worked a minimum number of hours in work covered by the EI program (the number depends on where you live in BC; in the Vancouver region, it’s 700 hours)
- have lost your job through no fault of your own (for example, if you were fired for misconduct or you chose to quit when you had other options, you wouldn’t qualify for EI)
- have gone seven straight days without work or pay from a particular employer
There are more requirements. Here are the details.
If you qualify, you receive 55% of your pay, up to a maximum of $573 per week.
The benefits last between 14 and 45 weeks, depending on how many hours you worked in the last 52 weeks and where you live in BC. For example, if you worked full-time hours in the Vancouver region for the full 52 weeks, you get benefits for 36 weeks. This chart shows benefit periods by hours worked and region.
If you’re eligible for EI and you’re still out of work after getting the 28 weeks of the CERB benefit, you can start your normal EI benefits then.
Employment insurance sickness benefits
If you can’t work because you’re sick with COVID-19 or under quarantine, you may be eligible for EI sickness benefits. These are temporary payments made to workers who can’t work for medical reasons.
To qualify, you must:
- in the last 52 weeks, have worked a minimum of 600 hours in work covered by the EI program
- have seen your average weekly pay decrease by more than 40% for at least one week
If you qualify, you receive 55% of your pay, up to a maximum of $573 per week. The benefits last up to 15 weeks.
The BC emergency benefit for workers
The BC government has also stepped up to the plate with the BC emergency benefit for workers. This is a one-time $1,000 payment (bonus: it’s tax-free).
You must fit into one of two categories to qualify:
- You are eligible for the CERB benefit — and you're not required to repay it.
- You stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020.
There are additional requirements, regardless of which category you fall within. To be eligible, you must:
- have been a BC resident on March 15, 2020
- be age 15 or older
- have filed, or agree to file, a 2019 income tax return
- not be receiving provincial income assistance or disability assistance
You may be asking yourself, But which benefits are right for me? We can help. Check out our guidance on figuring out which benefits you’re eligible for. We walk you through the factors in play and the steps to take action.