OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program will be extended by eight weeks, meaning those who will soon run out will have until the end of the summer to keep claiming the benefit while they try to find work.
Three months after the program rolled out, Trudeau said that while a gradual economic reopening is underway, there’s “a long journey ahead” before all sectors bounce back and all who have been laid off find jobs.
“The reality is that even as we start to reopen, a lot of people still need this support to pay their bills while they look for work,” Trudeau said.
The government continues to emphasize that it is looking for ways to incentivize returning to work when it is reasonable to do so rather than staying home and staying on the financial aid program, but Trudeau did not indicate during his Rideau Cottage address any major changes coming to the eligibility criteria or funding amount.
“Over the next few weeks, our government will look at international best practices, and monitor the economy and the progression of the virus to see what changes – if any – need to be made to the program so that more people are supported,” Trudeau said.
On Monday, Trudeau signalled the announcement was on the horizon, saying that the government was “working on a solution to extend the benefit for people who can’t return to work yet.”
By the first week of July and through the summer, millions of Canadians were set to come to the end of their 16-week eligibility period to claim CERB, which prompted questions about what would happen to those who have been on the program since it first launched and have already accessed the full $8,000 available, but are still out of a job and without income due to COVID-19.
“So, if you’ve been getting the CERB and you still can’t work because you are unable to find a job or it’s just not possible, you will keep getting that $2000 a month,” Trudeau said.
The first application period opened in early April, with Canadians able to claim the benefit for a maximum of 16 weeks between March 15 and October 3. There are also Canadians who could be coming up to the end of their benefit payments earlier if they were rolled onto the program from the Employment Insurance program at the very outset.
Close to 1.2 million Canadians have dropped off the program before maxing out their 16-week eligibility, meaning they have either gone back to work or have been moved onto the wage subsidy program through their employer.
As of June 4, the federal government has spent a total of $43.5 billion sending more than 8.4 million Canadians the $2,000 monthly payments.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough has said that the program, under the current parameters, is costing the government approximately $17 billion each month.
The announcement of an extension is something the NDP have long been calling for and comes just ahead of what will be a key House of Commons sitting on Wednesday where the Liberals will be looking for allies to help fast track their latest spending measures.
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