How do I apply for the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit? This and other FAQ.
Updated: Apr 6
Updated April 2, 2020
There is quite a bit of confusion on social media and news outlets. As a result, our office has received a lot of emails, calls, and messages relating to the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (the "CERB"). We have compiled the most frequently asked questions to help others, and we are committed to providing you with the most accurate and up to date information possible.
Here are the most frequent questions our office is receiving that we address in this Article:
Where do you get your information? How do I know I am getting accurate information here?
What are the requirements to be eligible for the CERB?
Is the $5,000 minimum income requirement mandatory?
Is there a 14-day wait period to receive the CERB?
How much will I receive from the CERB?
How long will I get the CERB?
Will I have to pay back the CERB?
If I choose to stop reporting to work because I don’t feel safe, can I get the CERB?
If I have to stay home to care for my kids due to school/daycare closure, and I am not being paid but I have not lost my job, do I qualify?
I have experienced a decrease in hours, but I did not completely lose my job. Do I qualify?
I am on EI right now. Can I apply for the CERB?
I recently applied for EI, but my application has not processed yet, and I would get more from the CERB. Can I switch my application over?
I qualify for EI, but I am not sure if I should apply for EI or the CERB? Can I apply for both?
When can I apply for CERB, and how do I apply?
1. Where do you get your information? How do I know I am getting accurate information here?
To understand why there is so much confusion about the CERB – and how we endeavour to have the most accurate information here - you have to understand the process of how an idea becomes law, and therefore what is binding and what is not.
There is often a disconnect between what is being announced by government officials, and what is actually contained in the legislation that is passed by Parliament. While confusing, this makes sense in a healthy democracy – especially during a minority government.
Announcements are not law
Announcement from government officials are not law. Bills that are debated and passed by the House of Commons, ratified by the Senate, and receive Royal Assent are law. Consequently,
there is often a disconnect between what is being announced by government officials, and what is actually contained in the legislation that is passed by Parliament. While confusing, this makes sense in a healthy democracy – especially during a minority government.
The ruling Government makes an announcement; the opposition parties dislike it for whatever reason; it gets debated in the House of Commons; and a compromise is often reached. The Bill is then amended, and the amended Bill is passed by the House. That (the amended Bill) is what eventually becomes law – but it is often not exactly what was announced by the Prime Minister or his/her cabinet at the beginning of the process.
This is precisely what happened with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act, which is the Act that creates the CERB. Consequently, many people are still relying on announcements made by the Prime Minister before the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act was passed by the House of Commons. That information may be out of date or, in some cases, simply wrong.
Regulations can change or expand the law
When drafting legislation, the government will often put sections in the law that grants power to specific individual(s) (generally specialists in the area) to create further rules. These are called “regulations.” An example of this is Section 2 of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act, which relates to eligibility for the CERB. That section says, essentially, to qualify for the CERB the worker must have had “a total income of at least $5,000 – or, if another amount is fixed by regulation, of at least that amount” in 2019 or the preceding 12 months.
That means the regulations could completely change the meaning of that section. The regulation could be released that says, in effect, “we’re changing the minimum income requirement to $100.” But if there are no regulations that amend it, then the $5,000 limit remains the law. If an official (including the Prime Minister) announces they are lowering it to $100, but no regulation is released to that effect or the Act is not amended, the announcement does not mean anything – it has no power in law, because the statute explicitly requires it to be “fixed by regulation.”
A lot of people and other commentators are taking announcements made by the Prime Minister and/or other government officials as being the law. They are not. Now that it has received Royal Assent, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act is the law, along with its corresponding regulations, which as of today (Early April 1) have not yet been released.
Because the Regulations have not been released (as of Early April 1), there is still a great deal of uncertainty in who qualifies. Taking the example above, some people may not meet the $5,000 minimum income requirement. If/when the regulation is released lowering it, they will. Consequently, any good lawyer is hesitant to provide advice until we have all the regulations – because that advice could change the minute they are released.
In all of our answers below, we refer to a “Section” (or “s.”), and these are taken directly out of the statute (Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act). Otherwise, we refer directly to a Government publication, such as a News Release or compendium, which might give insight on where they are going with the regulations. We are not relying on any third-party news sources, which we have noticed often contains speculation.
2. What are the requirements to be eligible for the CERB?
Here are the most up-to-date requirements, taken straight out of the legislation:
You must be a “worker,” which is defined as a person who: (i) is at least 15 years of age; (ii) is a resident in Canada; and (iii) earned at least $5,000 in 2019 or the 12 months before the application, or another amount fixed by regulations. That $5,000 can be earned from: employment, self-employment, EI benefits, or maternity/parental leave benefits. (see: s. 2)
You can be employed or self-employed (see: s. 6(1)(a))
You must have “ceased working for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days within the four-week period in respect of the period” in which you apply for payment” (see: s. 6(1)(a))
During that 14 consecutive day period, you did not receive: (i) subject to regulations, “income from employment or self-employment; (ii) EI benefits; (iii) maternity/parental leave benefits; or (iv) other income prescribed by regulation. (see: s. 6(1)(b))
A worker who “quits their employment voluntarily” is not considered a worker who “ceased working,” and therefore is not eligible (see: s. 6(2)). However, note that all Government News Releases have indicated that someone who has lost employment because they “had to stay home to care” for family or children, would qualify, provided they meet the other eligibility requirements.
No regulations have been released as of the date of writing (early April 1).
UPDATE APRIL 2: The Government just released a FAQ, and it added this information: "The Benefit is only available to individuals who stopped work as a result of reasons related to COVID-19. If you are looking for a job but haven’t stopped working because of COVID-19, you are not eligible for the Benefit.
For example if you are a student who had a job last year and were planning on working this summer you do not qualify for the benefit."
3. Is the $5,000 minimum income requirement mandatory?
Here is the exact section from the legislation (Section 2), which defines a worker:
worker means a person who is at least 15 years of age, who is resident in Canada and who, for 2019 or in the 12-month period preceding the day on which they make an application under section 5, has a total income of at least $5,000 — or, if another amount is fixed by regulation, of at least that amount — from the following sources: (a) employment; (b) self-employment; (c) benefits paid to the person under any of subsections 22(1), 23(1), 152.04(1) and 152.05(1) of the Employment Insurance Act; and (d) allowances, money or other benefits paid to the person under a provincial plan because of pregnancy or in respect of the care by the person of one or more of their new-born children or one or more children placed with them for the purpose of adoption.
As of right now (April 1), this means that, to meet the definition of a “worker” and therefore qualify for the CERB, you must have earned $5,000 in 2019 or in the preceding 12 months before your application. However, note that the $5,000 income is not limited to wages – it can be earned from: employment, self-employment, some EI benefits, or maternity/parental leave benefits.
Moreover, note the bold wording, and that it could be another “amount fixed by regulation.” That means, essentially, that the regulations could alter that $5,000 requirement up or down. As of today (Early April 1), the regulations have not been released.
4. Is there a 14-day wait period to receive CERB?
The short answer is: not in the same way there was a 1-week wait period for EI. Under Section 6(1)(a) and (b), you are eligible for the benefit if you:
“cease[d] working for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days within the four-week period in respect of which [you] apply for the payment,” and you have not received: (i) subject to regulations, income from employment or self-employment; (ii) EI benefits; (iii) maternity/paternity benefits; or (iv) “any other income that is prescribed by regulation.”
No regulations have been released as of today (Early April 1).
Consequently, you must have “ceased working” and not received wages/income from the noted sources for 14 days to be eligible for the benefit.
However, under Section 5(1), you may apply for a support payment for “any four-week period falling within the period beginning March 15, 2020 and ending on October 3, 2020.”
Granted, the wording of the legislation is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Here are our thoughts on it, although it is possible the Ministry will adopt a different interpretation:
There is nothing in the statute that says you will not get paid for those 14 days. Only, you are not eligible unless you have ceased working for 14 days within the 30 day period that you have applied for benefits. In other words, if you are applying for payment from March 15 – April 15, 2020, you must not have worked 14 consecutive days within that period to be eligible. If you were also not paid, you would receive the benefit for the whole month.
Here is an example: You ceased working March 15, 2020 and have no income from any source. You apply when the portal opens on April 6, and you backdate your application to be from March 15 – April 15. The application is processed and approved on April 20. You would be eligible to receive the monthly payment from March 15, 2020 until April 15, 2020 because, during that time frame, you “ceased working” for 14 consecutive days, and you received no income. If you continue to be unemployed and have zero income, you would be eligible to receive the benefit again from April 15, 2020 until May 15, 2020. And so forth.
Having said that, the statute is ambiguous and unclear as to whether you would be entitled to receive the benefit during a time that you were working and were paid, if it falls within a 30-day application period.
Thus, there does not appear to be a “14-day wait period” in the same sense that as EI normally has a 1-week waiting period. The regulations will hopefully clarify this issue.
5. How much will I receive from the CERB?
The Prime Minister announced that CERB would be a flat $2,000 payable monthly. Moreover, the most recent News Release says the benefit will be “$2,000 a month for up to 4 months.”
However, the statute does not say that. Here is what Section 7 of the statute says:
7(1) The amount of an income support payment for a week is the amount fixed by regulation for that week
7(2) With the consent of the Minister of Finance, the Minister may, by regulation, fix the amount of an income support payment for a week specified in the regulation
7(3) Regulations made under subsection (2) may distinguish among different classes of workers.
Because we do not yet have the regulations (as of Early April 1), we do not know how much the benefit will be. However, there are two things to note:
Announcements generally indicate the government’s intent, so it is likely that the regulations will provide $2,000 / month; however
The statutory scheme is clearly set up to allow the Minister to “distinguish among different classes of workers.” This means the legislation is set up to allow the Minister to vary the amount of the benefit amongst different applicants.
There is no way to know for sure until the regulations are released.
UPDATE APRIL 2, 2020: The Government just released updated information that confirms the CERB payment will be $2,000 for a 4-week period ($500 a week). This is taxable, and will not be deducted at source. That means you will declare it as income for the 2020 tax year, and pay income tax on that amount.
6. How long can I get the CERB?
The maximum number of weeks you can get CERB is “16 weeks or, if another number of weeks is fixed by regulation, that number of weeks.” (s. 8(1)). Since we do not currently have any regulations (as of Early April 1), as the law currently stands the maximum is 16 weeks (4 months).
7. Will I have to pay back CERB?
Many people are commenting on social media that you will have to pay back CERB. If you qualify, you will not have to pay it back. However, like any other Government benefit, including EI, you would be expected to pay it back if you received the benefit but you were not eligible for it. Here are the sections right out of the statute:
If you received the benefit but were not eligible, you “must repay the amount of the payment […] as soon as is feasible.” (See: s. 12(1))
If you end up owing money back because you were not eligible to receive the benefit, the Minister need only register a certificate against you, which “has the same effect as a judgment of the Court for the amount specified.” (See: s. 12(3))
The Government may look back at any time over a six-year period to see if someone received the benefit and was not eligible (see: s. 13), and this time period can be extended if you acknowledge liability (see: s. 13(3)(4) and (5))
However, no interest is payable on an amount you received but were not entitled to (see: s. 14).
Consequently, you will be required to pay back any overpayments or payments made “erroneously,” or if you were not eligible to receive it (e.g. you applied even though you were still working full time and receiving an income).
8. If I choose to stop reporting to work because I don’t feel safe, can I get the CERB?
The answer to this is not clear. On the one hand, you could argue that you “ceased working for a reason related to COVID-19” (see: s. 6(1)(a)).
On the other hand, you need to pay special attention to Section 6(2): A worker who “quit[s] their employment voluntarily” is not considered a worker who “ceased working,” and therefore is not eligible (see: s. 6(2)).
Consequently, the answer to this question depends on the circumstances surrounding your decision to stay home.
Kindly note that the question of whether you qualify for CERB is different from whether your job would be protected. Recent changes to the Employment Standards Act protects you from termination if you have to stay home as a result of COVID-19. Click here to see our article on that.
9. If I have to stay home to care for my kids due to school/daycare closure, and I am not being paid but I have not lost my job, do I qualify?
It appears that anyone who is required to stay home to care for kids would qualify, as you “ceased working for reasons related to COVID-19” (s. 6(1)(a)). However, this assumes that you have not “quit your employment voluntarily” (see: Section 6(2)), and you are not earning an income (s. 6(1)(b)). Consequently, if you have taken an "unpaid leave of absence" to care for your children, you likely qualify. If you told your employer that you are quitting and are not returning to work after the crisis, you may not qualify.
Moreover, this news release indicates this benefit would cover “working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.”
The this other news release says: “The benefit would cover Canadians who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.”
10. I have experienced a decrease in hours as a result of COVID-19, but I did not completely lose my job. Do I qualify for the CERB? (e.g. dropping from 40hrs to 15hrs a week)
The answer to this largely depends on what it means to “cease working,” (under s. 6(1)(a)) and what it means to have “income from employment or self employment.” (under s. 6(1)(b)(i)).
A strict reading of those sections may lead to the conclusion that you would not currently qualify.
However, it does not end there. It depends on the regulations.
The Minister could announce that they will interpret “cease working” to mean a reduction in hours, and then release regulations that amend s. 6(1)(b)(i) to mean a reduction in hours does not disqualify you for CERB.
Unfortunately, this question is impossible to answer with certainty until the regulations have been released. As of today’s date (April 1), they have not been released.
UPDATE APRIL 2: The Government released a FAQ this morning that address this issue. It says this:
"You must have stopped working as a result of COVID-19 and be without employment income for at least 14 consecutive days within the initial four-week period. This includes income from paid leave, self-employment income or collection of any Employment Insurance benefits.
For subsequent periods, you must expect to have no employment income.
You can also apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit if you are eligible for Employment Insurance regular or sickness benefits.
Provided it is allowed in your province or territory, you may also receive provincial or territorial support payments at the same time you receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit."
11. I am on Employment Insurance (EI) right now. Can I apply for the CERB?
Pay special attention to s. 6(1)(b)(ii), which disqualifies you from being eligible for CERB if you are receiving benefits under the Employment Insurance Act.
Having said that, if your EI benefits will expire prior to October 3, 2020; you continue to meet the eligibility requirements; and you cannot obtain work as a result of COVID-19; then you can apply for CERB at that point.
12. I just applied for Employment Insurance (EI), but I’d get more from CERB. Can I switch my application over?
A recent FAQ released by the Government on April 2 says this:
"If you have stopped working because of COVID-19, you should apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, whether or not [you] are eligible for Employment Insurance. The Benefit is available for the period from March 15, 2020 to October 3, 2020.
If you applied for EI regular or sickness benefits on March 15, 2020 or later, your claim will be automatically processed through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
In addition, for other EI benefits, including maternity, parental, caregiving, fishing and worksharing, you should also continue to apply."
If you became eligible for Employment Insurance prior to March 15th, your claim will be processed under the pre-existing Employment Insurance rules.
If you became eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits March 15th onward, your claim will be automatically processed through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit."
13. I qualify for EI, but I’m not sure if I should apply for EI or CERB? Or should I apply for both?
One thing is clear: Do not apply for both.
A recent FAQ released by the Government (April 2) says this:
"If you have stopped working because of COVID-19, you should apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, whether or not are eligible for Employment Insurance. The Benefit is available for the period from March 15, 2020 to October 3, 2020."
This News Release indicates that “The CERB is available to Canadian workers affected by the current situation whether or not they are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).” Under s. 6(1)(b)(ii), you are ineligible for CERB if you are currently on EI.
In other words, if you have stopped working because of COVID-19, you should apply for the CERB. If you have stopped working for reasons unrelated to COVID-19 (e.g. seasonal work that always ends at this time), you should apply for EI. Do not apply for both. If you are already receiving EI, you do not qualify for the CERB.
UPDATE APRIL 2, 2020: The Government has released another update that confirms the payment will be a flat $2,000 monthly (or $500 a week). This is a taxable benefit (same as EI), and you will need to report any payments received on next year's tax filing.
14. When can I apply for CERB, how do I apply, and when can I expect my money?
Applications will commence the week of April 6 - 9 but are staggered depending on your birth month.
When to Apply
Applications are available now (April 6). However, they are staggered depending on your birth month. See the chart below:
How to Apply
The applications will be handled by the CRA (rather than the Ministry of Economic and Social Development, which handles EI applications), and there will be two ways to apply:
Through CRA My Account
Through an automated telephone service
(1) Through CRA My Account (Starting the week of April 6)
Once you sign-in to CRA My Account, you will go to the COVID-19: Canada Emergency Response Benefit in the alert banner at the top of the page;
You then select the 4-week period you want to apply for;
Declare that you qualify for the benefit; and
Confirm that the CRA has your correct payment information.
(2) By Telephone (Starting the week of April 6)
Select your language preference (English / French);
Follow the prompts, including entering your Social Insurance Number (SIN); confirm your postal code; and the period you are apply for; and
Declare that you qualify for the benefit
Whether you apply through CRA My Account or by telephone, each application you submit will be for a 4-week period, and you submit it on the day of the week that corresponds to your birth month (see chart above). You will then reapply the following month for another 4-week period if your situation has not changed. You can repeat this process for up to 4 applications (16 weeks).
You will not be required to provide additional documentation at the time of application, but you will likely have to verify your eligibility at a future date, anytime within 6 years.
You can expect to get your payment within 3 business days if you have signed up for direct deposit, and approximately 10 business days if you have not signed up for direct deposit.
Example 1: You ceased working on March 15, 2020, and have not received an income from any source since then. Your birthday is June 5. You will therefore apply on Tuesday, April 7 (see chart above), and you will apply for the 4-week period from March 15 - April 11. You will receive $2,000 of taxable benefit for that time, deposited directly into your bank account within 3 business days (if you have direct deposit). If your situation has not changed (i.e. you still have no income and you still are not working), you can submit another application next month to receive the benefit again from April 12 - May 10. You can continue this for up to 4 applications (16 weeks).
Example 2: You ceased working on April 2. You will not be eligible to receive the benefit for the 4-week period of March 15 - April 11 (since you have not ceased work for 14 days during that time frame). However, you will be eligible to receive the benefit for the next 4-week period (April 12 - May 9), provided you have not gone back to work and you have not received an income.
If you intend to apply for CERB, we recommend you create a “CRA My Account” now and register for direct deposit, if you have not already done so. It will expedite the process, and help you get paid faster.
You can create a My CRA Account by clicking here, and choosing "CRA register" under "Option 2." Here's what it looks like:
This New Release from the CRA (dated April 1) outlines more information.
We are closely monitoring this ever-shifting legal landscape. Stay tuned as we learn more.
CLP Law remains available to answer any questions or concerns. Feel free to reach out to us by logging in and commenting below, via email, phone, or through our website's online contact form.
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DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice. This article is meant to provide general information on the new Canada Emergency Response Act and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The law is necessarily contextual, and depends entirely on your individual circumstances. An analysis of all contextual factors relating to your employment, how your employment has ended or been suspended, and the effect of COVID-19 on your employment is absolutely necessary before a conclusion can be reached. Call our office or another lawyer if you need advice.