Updated 17 April 2020
If you lost work due to COVID-19, you may qualify
A key federal program for direct payments to workers who have lost their income entirely or partly through COVID-19 is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). This article explains who qualifies, how to apply, and how the CERB relates to EI benefits and the wage subsidies.
Main points about the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
The CERB payment is $2000 a month for everyone who qualifies. It is open to all workers over age 15, including employees, self-employed, gig-workers, contractors and seasonal workers, full and part-time. It also covers those whose EI ran out since January 1, 2020 with no work to return to. It includes citizens, Permanent Residents, foreign workers and international students.
CERB money is given to cover a 4-week block, called periods. The first period was March 15-April 11. The second period is April 12-May 9. The third period is May 10-June 6 and so on until Sept. 26. That makes for 7 periods of the CERB program, but the maximum one person can receive is payment for 4 periods ($8000).
CERB was expanded to cover many more workers on April 15, 2020. Before that, it only covered workers with no income at all due to COVID-19. Now, people earning $1000 or less (before taxes) due to reduced hours in the 4-week period can also apply.
The $2000 payments are taxable. A T4 slip will be issued later; there is no deduction up front.
After receiving the first payment, you must re-apply in the same way each month and confirm you still qualify. It is an honour system, but CRA expects to investigate and seek proof later, and can require repayment of amounts received in error, or penalize those not truthful.
Who exactly qualifies?
You must reside in Canada and meet the following criteria:
You had at least $5000 income in the last 12 months (or the calendar year 2019) from employment, self-employment, maternity or parental benefits, or any combination
You stopped work for reasons related to COVID-19 such as business closure, self-isolation, caring for children at home through school closures, etc.
You have no paid leave from your employer, and
If you are applying for the first time, then for at least 14 days in a row during the 4-week payment period you’re applying for, you do not expect to receive more than $1,000 (before taxes) from employment and self-employment income, or
If you are re-applying for second or later period, you do not expect your situation to change during this 4-week period and you do not expect to receive more than $1,000 (before taxes) from employment and self-employment income during this period.
You will not qualify for CERB if:
You quit work voluntarily
You stopped working for reasons not related to COVID-19
You are already receiving EI regular or sickness benefits (if your EI ends before October 3rd, you can apply for the CERB money at that time if you are still cannot work due to COVID-19), or
You are receiving an emergency wage subsidy.
When to Apply
You can apply for each new period as it opens. You can also apply for a previous period if you qualified then but did not apply. Of course, you can only get one CERB payment of $2000 per period. Period One opened on April 6 (but was retroactive in benefits to March 15th). Period Two opened April 12th. Period Three opens May 10th. People can start applying when the period opens, but applications are staggered by month of birth.
Workers who only became eligible when the new rules were announced on April 15, 2020 are permitted to apply retroactively for the period starting March 15, 2020 as well as the current period, if they meet the criteria for each period (see the rule for first time applicants in Who exactly qualifies above).
Each time you re-apply for CERB, you need to confirm you qualify. Note that the “14 day” rule only applies to initial applicants. Later applicants need only assert they do not expect to earn income over $1000 in the 4-week period.
For more details when to apply see: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/apply-for-cerb-with-cra.html
How to apply for CERB
The process is very simple, as reported by several of the millions of people who applied since CERB opened on April 6th. The money arrives in your bank account in about 3 days if you have direct deposit, or 10 days by cheque.
There are two ways to apply. You can apply through the automated phone lines, or online through either the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) portal called MyAccount or your MyServiceCanada account if you had that set up for an EI claim. However, you cannot apply for CERB using CRA if you already used your Service Canada account to apply for EI or CERB. You must continue with your Service Canada account.
You can set up a CRA MyAccount here: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/e-services/e-services-individuals/account-individuals.html. If you have online banking, you can use the same username and password as your banking (CRA calls this your “Sign-In Partner”). This makes it quicker for the government to identify you, plus gives you one less user ID and password to keep track of and makes direct deposit into your account simple.
The automated phones and online portals are open 21 hours a day, 7 days a week. Both are closed daily from 3AM to 6AM (Eastern time) for maintenance.
All applicants are asked to declare they meet the eligibility criteria at the end of their application. The system operates on good faith upfront. The declaration warns it is a criminal offence to lie. You can be asked to provide the documentation later to verify you were eligible for the period you received the CERB.
Apply for CERB by phone
You will need to verify your identity using your SIN and date of birth. Before calling, decide which 4-week eligibility period you are seeking benefits for by its start date (the start dates for eligibility periods are March 15, April 12, May 10, June 7, etc).
Call 1-800-959-2019 OR 1-800-959-2041.
The automated system takes you through all the questions. It will confirm whether CRA has direct deposit on file for you (e.g. you had other federal benefits in the past). It takes only a few minutes, and usually one of the automated lines is open.
Apply for CERB Online
You can apply online through a CRA MyAccount or a My Service Canada account but NOT both. This has caused some people to receive double payments which they will need to repay.
If you already have a CRA account, make sure your personal information and direct deposit information is up to date before applying. Access your account to ensure everything is up to date. You can recover a lost password using the security questions when you registered. You can recover a lost user ID using your SIN, date of birth, information on your latest tax return and the answers to security questions given when you registered.
If you are locked out of your account, the quickest way to apply for CERB is through the automated phone system.
How does this fit with EI payments?
This depends on where you are in the EI process.
If you are already receiving EI benefits before CERB, they will continue. You might also be eligible for CERB later if your benefits end before October 3, 2020.
If you recently applied for EI benefits which have not started yet, or are about to apply for EI having become eligible after March 15, 2020, your EI application will be automatically diverted to the CERB program instead. You will be getting the first flat payment of $2000 in April and possibly another partial (EI-eligible) payment for March; it is not necessary to apply separately for CERB. The idea is to streamline millions of EI applications in the backlog to get this benefit quicker. After your CERB benefits run out, you can revert to EI benefits if you are still unemployed.
If you were eligible for EI before March 15 but have not applied yet, your application will be assessed under the pre-existing EI rules.
If you are eligible for EI and would have been entitled to more than $2000 a month, you will get the $2000 CERB amount until the end of CERB (Sept. 26). After that, you retain your eligibility for EI. The time period you received the CERB payments does not impact your EI entitlement.
A person cannot get EI benefits and the CERB benefit for the same period.
The rest of the EI program is working normally, e.g. for maternity and parental benefits. As many EI claims are being diverted to the CERB system, if you qualify for EI, for example your illness is not COVID related, you can apply for EI in the Service Canada portal and the system will determine whether you get the CERB amount or the regular EI amount.
Received CERB in error? Returned to work sooner than planned?
The CERB website cautions people when to expect to repay the CERB money received and provides “how to” instructions for that. If this may be your situation, you can check this out at: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/apply-for-cerb-with-cra.html
Still need more information on CERB or EI?
You might have a more specific situation not covered in this article. Here are some great sources that contain more detail:
CERB website: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/apply-for-cerb-with-cra.html
Are you a visual learner? Check out this informative YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaGPMv3SrI
Still not sure you qualify? You can speak to a person at: 1-800-959-8281. Better to check, as an innocent mistake may require you to re-pay. This phone number can be hard to reach, but while waiting, you might be able to get your answers another way. This automated phone number leads you through Q&A to try to sort out what information is relevant to your situation: 1-833-966-2099. Plus, there is an interactive (also automated) chat feature that can direct you to the right option. See Getting Started at this webpage: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application.html#get_started
Other federal funds arriving in May automatically
Two cash benefits are coming in May for low and modest-income families. You do not need to apply; they are automatic:
An increased Goods and Services Tax Credit. The average benefit will be about $400 for single individuals and $600 for couples. This will be sent in early May to people eligible, based on their tax return for 2018, or 2019 of they filed.
An increase in the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit payment by $300 per child. Those already receiving the Canada Child Benefit don’t need to apply. New applicants must file a tax return ASAP and then apply. The child benefit top-up will be delivered as part of the scheduled child benefit payment in May.
Other federal programs coming
Announcements have been made for further funds coming for various categories of workers very soon:
Wage top-up for essential workers who earn less than $2,500 per month; the definition of “essential workers” is still in process
Students – the Canada Summer Jobs Program is providing wage subsidies up to 100% to employers to hire summer students
All workers – wage subsidies of $75% will be given to employers who keep the worker on the payroll, to allow them to start up quickly when COVID-19 is over.
A person cannot get one of these the emergency wage subsidies and the CERB for the same time period.
Spread the word!
Please share the CERB program widely on social media. Let’s help everyone who qualifies to get these funds.
And consider your neighbors. Do you know anyone who might qualify but has no Internet access? (Remember the libraries are closed). Perhaps you can offer to help them.
If you are having difficulties accessing CERB, we may be able to help. Please contact Lynn at cbmca.relief@gmail. com
Just a few more ways to Stay In – HELP OUT!