Trudeau set to announce expanded eligibility for emergency benefits

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce more flexible rules for claiming the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) Wednesday in response to criticism the current regime excludes students and people working reduced hours.

Trudeau will outline the expanded eligibility criteria during his daily briefing outside his home at Rideau Cottage beginning at 11:15 a.m. ET. Watch it live here.

The government had taken heat from opposition parties and Canadians who were left out under the initial rules, which said a person must have lost all income for 14 consecutive days in the first month, then have zero income for subsequent months.

That left out many students whose summer job plans are falling through, and people who are working reduced but regular hours. Trudeau has also promised to make a change so that essential workers such as those working in long-term care facilities aren’t financially disadvantaged by working instead of collecting the CERB.

Legislation passed on the weekend on the separate business wage subsidy program also spoke to the need for measures to address gaps in the CERB.

It specifically mentions the needs of seasonal workers, people who have exhausted employment insurance (EI) benefits, students, owner-operators and those who continue to receive a modest income from part-time work, royalties and honorariums.

As of Monday, nearly early six million people had applied for COVID-19 emergency aid benefits in the past month.

More than half of them (3.5 million) had applied for the CERB since applications opened on April 6.

Opposition calls out ‘terrible design flaw’

The total figure of nearly six million includes those who applied through the EI process, which will be streamed through CERB for the first four months. To date, close to 5.4 million of those six million aid claims have been processed.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Monday there was a “terrible design flaw” in the CERB, which disqualifies those who work regular but reduced hours.

“I can’t think of a policy more perverse and backwards than one that punishes people for the crime of working hard,” he said.

Poilievre said people who work reduced hours should be eligible under a formula that phases out income support based on the hours worked. He said emergency aid programs should always make people better off when they continue to work and contribute to the Canadian economy.

The $2,000 monthly CERB payment is for people who have lost their sources of income due to the global pandemic — either because they’ve lost their jobs or they have to stay home to care for dependents, or to self-isolate.