Pattie Lovett-Reid: Fast facts about the CERB transition plan

Published Aug. 21, 2020 8:30 a.m. ET

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TORONTO -- We were all blindsided by the pandemic and many would applaud the government's response through emergency measures recognizing the need was urgent for temporary financial support to keep families, small business and our economy afloat.

Fear was mounting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was coming to an end and for more than three million families a sudden drop income would have been disruptive, many would have fallen through the cracks of existing programs and the recovery process compromised.

As we move through the pandemic it has become clear some help is still required and reform was necessary to modernize the support mechanisms in place such as the Employment Insurance program to ensure the support is there for Canadians to transition back to work.

It is also important to never lose sight of the big picture: our country's long-term economic stability is at risk.

Here are some of the facts:

  • The feds are extending CERB by four weeks to a maximum of 28 weeks
  • The government is transitioning to a modified EI program on September 27
  • The government is launching three new temporary recovery benefits
  • Recovery benefits will cover self-employed, sickness and caregivers
  • The EI eligibility requirement has been lowered to 120 insurable hours across Canada
  • EI will offer a minimum benefit of $400 per week for at least 26 weeks
  • The feds are freezing EI premium rates for two years
  • The majority of CERB recipients will be automatically transitioned to EI

Our key to getting the economy back on track is getting people back to work. This will in part be helped through ongoing education and retraining and an enhanced EI that supports the process, by permitting people to work while claiming the benefit. The goal here is to help Canadians stay connected to the workforce. A key ingredient for success.

Canadian businesses will also support the freezing of EI contributions at the current levels. Otherwise there would have been an additional burden on both employers and employees who pay into the system. 

The logic seems clear, the measures will be in place for only a year helping Canadians to continue to adjust and reduce the financial strain on the government that was unsustainable. The focus needs to be on job creation and the promotion of business investment.

We have heard it before, the recovery is going to be uneven and some sectors are going to take much longer to recover and will face headwinds until a vaccine is found. The pandemic has in many ways revealed the inadequacies of support systems such as EI that covered only a portion of Canadian workers. It may be a small consolation, however, a COVID-19 silver lining has emerged and become the catalyst for change to modernize an outdated system. 

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