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Who is eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)?

FAQ coronavirus

If you were recently laid off or had your work hours cut, the new Canadian COVID-19 benefits program, included in the $107 billion allocated to emergency response, is likely your best option for financial support in the next few weeks and months during this global pandemic. 

Initially, the program was divided into two categories of aid: Emergency Care and Emergency Support Benefits. However, on March 25, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) would now include all those impacted by the COVID-19 response making CERB the sole option for Canadians who would otherwise not qualify for employment insurance (EI) due to loss of income. 

Starting April 6, 2020, Canadians who have lost income because of COVID-19 will be able to apply for CERB, and if approved, will receive a temporary income of up to $500 a week for up to four months. (That’s a total of $8,000 in government support.) Below outlines information on CERB eligibility and how to apply for benefits. 

Who is eligible for CERB, and how much will you receive?

To qualify for CERB benefits, you must be a resident of Canada, be 15 years of age or older at the time of application, and for the 12 months preceding the application date, have earned at least $5,000 of employed or self-employed income. 

If you fall under these qualifications, the additional CERB eligibility requirements include:

  • You’re no longer working due to reasons caused by COVID-19;
  • You’re unable to work due to illness;
  • You lost employment due to reasons beyond your control;
  • You did not quit your job by choice;
  • You are unable to earn income due to the COVID-19 slowdown, but haven’t been officially laid off;
  • You have not applied for or are receiving EI benefits during the same period. 

The key is that you do not need to prove that you were laid off in order to apply for CERB. 

If you were temporarily laid off or had your work hours reduced, you can apply. 

If you are in quarantine or taking care of someone who is in quarantine, you can apply. 

If you are no longer working in order to take care of dependents due to childcare facility closures, you can apply for CERB. 

And this applies to employed workers, contractors as well as self-employed individuals, such as real estate agents, independent mortgage brokers,  insurance agents, construction sub-trades, hair stylists, graphic designers, makeup artists, film crew sub-trades, career coach, personal trainers, nannies, among others. 

Additional reading to help homeowners and renters during the COVID-19 outbreak:

How much will I get?

Under the regular Employment Insurance program, you’re eligible to receive 55% of your annual insurable income, up to a maximum of $54,200. If you earn more than the income cap, you’d get $573 per week. If you earn less than the maximum annual income, you’d get less. But under CERB eligibility this doesn’t apply.

Everyone who qualifies and gets approved for CERB will receive $500 per week, regardless of their earnings prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The money you earn through CERB is in addition to the Child Tax Benefit (CCB), Canada Pension Plan (CCP) and Ontario Trillium Benefit (OTB). Similar to EI, the CERB income is taxable. 

How do you apply for CERB?

If you are one of the nearly one million Canadians who have already applied for EI, you do not need to reapply for the CERB benefit. Instead, the government will filter Canadians through EI to CERB, as required. 

For Canadians who are waiting for the April 6 application date, you can apply online through either Service Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The Canadian government asks that you do not use both application portals. 

Prior to April 6, the online application portal will not exist, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t get ready to apply. 

Even before the online portal opens, you should create and register for your CRA My Account. Get your banking information and sign up for direct deposit to speed along the process. Getting access to CRA My Account will speed up the time it takes for you to fill out your application on April 6. 

Once the portal opens, you need to provide your Social Insurance Number (SIN) and confirm that you meet CERB eligibility requirements. 

When will I see CERB benefits?

Once you receive approval for CERB, Canadians can expect payments to arrive within three (3) business days, if you’ve signed up for direct deposit, or 10 tens days if you opted for a mailed cheque. With direct-deposit, these benefits will be automatically deposited into your account every month. 

There are no holds on payments once you receive approval.

What if I’m still not working after 4 months?

If you are still unemployed or unable to work after the four months, once the COVID Emergency Response Benefits end, you will be eligible to apply for the full EI. For those who already applied for EI, once CERB benefits are terminated, you will automatically be registered in the standard Employment Insurance program.  

Keep in mind, you may be asked to provide proof of unemployment during the four months that you are eligible for CERB. The government has alluded to this requirement in their press releases, but their website does not offer how often you will be asked for confirmation of unemployment or loss of work hours, nor does it state what type of documentation you will need to provide. 

What if I earn money?

If you have not stopped working due to COVID-19, than you are not eligible for CERB.

If you are fortunate enough to earn money during any part of the 4-week benefit period, then you are not eligible for CERB. However, if you’re situation changes, you can apply or re-apply for CERB eligibility and funding.

To help you calculate when and if you’re eligible, remember that the CERB program is broken up into four periods, each four weeks long. The first, four-week period starts on March 15, 2020 and runs until April 12, 2020. This means, if you’re applying on April 6, you are confirming that you were unable to earn income during this four-week period.

Once this four week period is up, you will be asked to re-confirm your eligibility for the next four week period.

For example, if you earned a commission cheque dated March 26, 2020, then you would not be eligible for the first CERB benefit period. However, this does not mean you cannot receive the benefit during additional benefit periods. If you end up unable to earn money after March 26 (in this example or anytime after the first four-week CERB period), then you would be eligible for CERB benefits. That’s when you should go online and apply.

The COVID Emergency Response Benefits will be available until October 3, 2020, which means you can apply for CERB at anytime up until October 3, 2020, and receive emergency income funds backdated to the day you stopped earning income. 

This structure is to help promote working and earning, while providing a cushion against a lack of income over the next four months.

What else do I need to know?

If you currently receive EI benefits for parental leave — commonly referred to as mat-leave or pat-leave — you cannot apply for CERB, unless your leave has come to an end, your benefits have stopped, and you do not have a job to return to.

CERB income will not be taxed at the source — which means you won’t see taxes taken off the income supplement you receive — but you will need to report these earnings on your 2020 tax return.

If you are looking for additional financial support and are curious about the amount of money you are eligible to receive through government benefits, financial expert Preet Banerjee, has created a calculator for Canadians to get a precise estimate. 

While many people will opt to apply online, there are actually three ways to apply for CERB. Choose the one method that works best for you:

  • through your CRA MyAccount secure portal;
  • through your secure My Service Canada Account; or
  • by calling a toll-free number equipped with an automated application process. This number will be available as of April 6.

To speed up the process, the CRA created a cheat sheet on the best time to apply.

CRA when to apply for CERB

Additional reading to help homeowners and renters during the COVID-19 outbreak:

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Alyssa Davies & Romana King

Alyssa is a personal finance blogger who focuses on mixing finances with laughter. She is a content specialist at Zolo. Romana is an award-winning personal finance writer with an expertise in real estate. She is the Director of Content at Zolo.