On Thursday, the federal government announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will be extended for 4 more weeks, increasing the total length of the program to 28 weeks. This means if you’ve received CERB since March 15, you can continue doing so until September 26. The government also announced temporary improvements to the Employment Insurance program and 3 new Recovery Benefits for workers, which will be replacing CERB and are to be legislated at the end of September. We know that none of these changes would have been possible without workers raising our voices  to demand protections during COVID-19!
Do you want to share your experiences with CERB and why we need at least $500 a week to survive the pandemic? Send us an email to share your story.
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For millions of workers who were about to lose access to CERB on August 28, the past several weeks have been a nightmare. Two-thirds of CERB recipients would not have been eligible for EI, and the ones who could access it would only receive an average of $312 a week (or much less). But, after many workers emailed and called their Member of Parliament, decorated constituency offices with our demands, and courageously spoke out in the media , the federal government brought in reforms. Here are the changes made to EI that will be in place for one year:
- Lowered the hours of work needed to qualify to 120. This improves access for many part-time workers and those whose hours were reduced because of the pandemic.
- Established a minimum benefit floor of $400 per week. Low-wage earners could get as little as $150 per week under previous rules. We are pleased about the increase, but this amount still falls short of the $500 per week that we received through CERB.
- EI regular benefits will last for 26 weeks. Before, some workers could only get EI for 14 weeks. Creating a universal minimum is the right step forward, but 26 weeks will still not be long enough due to the long-term impact of COVID-19.
Complementing the temporary changes made to EI, a new program called the Canada Recovery Benefit will also be created for workers who cannot access EI, providing $400 for 26 weeks. For many independent contractors and misclassified workers, the creation of a new income program after CERB ends will create a lifeline. But, $1,600 a month is not enough! Back in July, the Workers’ Action Centre surveyed 1,400 workers, and 45% of CERB recipients said that $2,000 per month was not enough to cover their basic needs like food and medicine. Yet the federal government expects workers on EI and the Canada Recovery Benefit to survive on only $1,600 per month. The amount just covers rent in many Canadian cities, leaving workers to wonder how they’ll afford necessities. All workers need at least $500 per week! (See the survey results: Uncertain times: the transition from CERB to a new EI system under COVID-19).
Two more new benefits will also be available to workers at the end of September.
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is for those who are sick or must quarantine because of COVID-19. The amount is $500 per week, but only lasts two weeks — which can be too short a time to await test results and fully recover from the virus, especially for frontline workers who need to quarantine several times.
The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit will be for those who stay home to care for a child or another dependent because of school or daycare closures, or because a doctor said they could not attend. The amount is $500 per week for up to 26 weeks. To learn more about EI and the new benefits, join our workshop Workers’ Rights During COVID-19: EI and Lay-offs on Wednesday, August 26 at 6:00 pm.
Right now we all need to raise our voices so the new floor for EI benefits and the Canada Recovery Benefit both provide at least $500 per week, just like the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit will. Please take a moment now to add your voice so we can win benefits that are $500 a week and last at least 52 weeks: call the prime minister. Whether we are in low-wage jobs, are misclassified or self-employed, and whether or not we have full immigration status, we all deserve adequate income support during this pandemic.
 Canadian Press article: As CERB winds down, labour group asks Liberals to rethink EI
 Toronto Star exclusive: Reduced hours, job loss and bankrupt employers — it’s ‘not a happy time’ for CERB recipients as benefit winds down