The plan provides an extra $52 billion to Canadian workers through relaxed access to EI sickness benefits and a new program called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that can even help Canadians who don’t qualify for EI.
Read on to find out whether you can get EI sickness benefits or CERB, and what other financial support options are available if you can’t.
Who qualifies for EI sickness benefits
If you are currently missing work because you are sick or under quarantine, you might be eligible to collect EI sickness benefits. You qualify if:
You’re unable to work for medical reasons, such as illness, injury or being ordered into self-isolation by a public health official
Your regular weekly earnings have dropped by over 40% for a week or more
And you have accumulated 600 insured hours in the last 52 weeks before the start of your claim. Service Canada says that’s the equivalent of working 20 weeks at 30 hours a week.
In order to claim EI sickness benefits, you typically need to present a medical certificate and record of employment. However, because of the pandemic, the government has waived the medical certificate requirement for anyone whose claim is related to COVID-19.
The standard one-week waiting period to receive EI sickness benefits has also been waived, so if you’re self-isolating for two weeks you can collect payment for both weeks.
If eligible, you’ll be able to collect 55% of your insurable earnings up to a maximum of $573 a week — around $2,292 each month — for a period of up to 15 weeks.
You can apply for EI sickness benefits online here. You’ll need to provide your social insurance number and information from your record of employment during the application process, so make sure you have both handy.
Upon submitting your application, you’ll be issued a four-digit access code, which you should write down and keep in a safe place. You’ll need this code to access updates regarding your application and complete biweekly reports showing you’re still eligible.
If you don’t have direct deposit set up and you’re unable to go outside and grab your benefits cheque due to self-isolation, don’t worry — you can claim them backdated once your quarantine period is over.
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Who qualifies for CERB
Even if you aren’t eligible to collect EI sickness benefits, anyone laid off or unable to work due to the pandemic can still apply for help under the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
CERB is designed to support many Canadians, including people who would otherwise slip through the cracks of the EI system. It’s available to wage earners but also independent contractors and self-employed people who wouldn't ordinarily qualify for EI. You just need to have earned at least $5,000 in the last year.
The benefit can also be collected by workers who are still employed but not receiving any income. That could be because their work schedule has been affected, because they’re sick or quarantined or because they’re caring for a sick person or children who are out of school or daycare.
CERB payments will amount to around $2,000 a month for up to 16 weeks.
If you’re eligible for CERB, you can apply via your Service Canada account starting in early April or using a toll-free number that will be announced soon.
You can expect to receive your first CERB payment about three days after you apply if you choose direct deposit or 10 days if you choose payment by cheque. Subsequent payments will arrive every four weeks.
Financial support under CERB will be available until Oct. 3, 2020. You can still apply for standard EI benefits afterward.
What if I’m already collecting regular EI benefits?
Anyone collecting regular EI benefits will continue to receive payments as usual.
If your EI benefits expire before Oct. 3, 2020, you can still apply for CERB as long as you qualify and are unable to work due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If you recently applied for EI and your application is still pending, your application will automatically be transferred to CERB and you do not need to reapply.
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Other steps you can take
If you don’t qualify for EI sickness benefits or CERB, there may still be opportunities for financial support.
The federal government has asked lenders in Canada to allow mortgage deferrals, so if you own a home it’s worth checking with your bank or lender to see whether you qualify.
Although there is currently no specific aid package for renters, if you’re worried you won’t be able to pay your rent you should talk to your landlord about deferring payments.
Several provinces and territories have instituted eviction bans and rent freezes, but keep in mind that an eviction ban does not exempt you from paying rent; you’ll eventually need to make up any payments you miss.
If you have an emergency fund, now is a great time to use it. Likewise, if you have money stashed away in a tax-free savings account, you might want to consider pulling some out to help cover your monthly expenses.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold it’s possible that more financial support measures will be announced. Keep an eye out, and use whatever help you need in this trying time.
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