That means those who lost work right when the pandemic began would have been hung out to dry in early July. However, with the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 looming, the federal government feels the economy needs more time to recover.
“The reality is that there are three million people out of work who are looking for work, and even as our economy is reopening, there are many, many more people out of work, willing to work, than there are jobs available,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference on June 16.
While some provinces are easing public health restrictions and businesses are beginning to reopen, May saw the highest unemployment rate on record at 13.7%.
Need outweighs fraud concerns
Before Trudeau’s announcement, some Canadians feared the government wouldn’t extend the benefit due to concerns of widespread fraud.
It’s actually surprisingly easy to apply for the benefit. That was intentional, as the goal was to get money to Canadians as quickly as possible without too much holdup. The government vowed to investigate claims at a later date.
That reckoning is now underway. According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), Canadians have already made 190,000 repayments for benefits they weren’t eligible to receive.
The government also set up a Leads Program (read: snitch line) to allow people to report anyone they suspect of abusing COVID-19 benefits. As of June 10, the CRA is reviewing more than 1,300 tips.
New rules may be on the horizon
To ensure people aren’t getting too comfortable with their free cash from the government, the Liberal party recently tried to pass a series of new restrictions and penalties.
A draft bill would have seen Canadians lose their benefits if they refused to return to work when “reasonable” to do so. And anyone who lied to get CERB would face fines of up to $5,000 and six months in jail.
If you’re still wary of going back to work, don’t stress: The bill has stalled completely without support from another party.
Instead, the government is finding other ways to gently nudge Canadians into the workplace. As of July 5, CERB payouts will require you to acknowledge that you know the government is urging you to find employment if able.
In the meantime, the audits will continue. If you’re on CERB and are a little unsure about your status, you’ll want to put a portion of that money aside just in case you’re asked to return some or all of the cash. Even if you are fully eligible, you’ll need to pay taxes on your payments eventually.
Try to store what you can in a high-interest savings account, so it earns you good money while it’s sitting around unused.
After that, keep an eye on the headlines. The New Democrats are pushing for an even longer extension, while the Conservatives want to make it easier to return to work without losing your entire benefit.