Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

People worried they received extra Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) money in their bank accounts Wednesday morning can breathe a sigh of relief, according to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office.

Thousands of people who’ve lost their jobs and incomes due to COVID-19 found an unexpected $2,000 in their bank accounts on Wednesday (April 8), sparking concern that they were being paid extra through Employment Insurance (EI) or CERB, as well as causing fear it would be clawed back.

But the funds are the lump-sum emergency benefit money for the month of April, according to Qualtrough’s press secretary, Marielle Hossack.

Abbotsford resident Emily Brown, 27, said although she’s been out of work for just three and a half weeks, she’s received two payments from the federal government already: one $1,500 payment Tuesday (April 7) and one for $2,000 on Wednesday (April 8). Brown applied for Employment Insurance (EI) on March 17, after being laid off the day prior.

“I applied for regular EI but got switched to CERB automatically,” Brown told Black Press Media.

WATCH: Despite gaps, economic-relief package for COVID-19 is biggest in history, Freeland says

She’s among many others similarly confused and concerned.

Olivia Stevens, 23, awoke Wednesday to find $2,000 in additional funds in her bank account.

Stevens, who lives in Elmsdale, N.S., but works in the neighbouring city of Dartmouth, worked her last shift as a cook on March 15, before officially being laid off on March 17. She applied for EI the next day.

Stevens has since received two payments, both placed into her bank account last week. Originally, she was only eligible for $316 weekly, but that was boosted to $500 because of the emergency benefit.

“I didn’t apply for CERB separately – I just woke up to money today after receiving this week’s EI yesterday,” she said. “This has happened to a number of people that I know, as well.”

Stevens has been trying to call Service Canada to clarify whether the funds were sent erroneously or if the government had moved to making these payments monthly instead of bi-weekly.

“My biggest concern is having to pay it back. I can’t see myself having to pay all of it back since I am eligible for some portion of money,” she said. “I’m lucky the possible mistake was caught right away before I spent it on bills, but I know that some people already did spend it on bills before realizing it could be a mistake.”

Hossack said most people need not worry.

“We know there are some people who have been paid double,” she said Wednesday afternoon, but added, “No one’s going to receive more money than they’re supposed to.”

The $2,000 payments deposited Wednesday morning are for April, as long as you applied for either EI as a result of COVID-19 or for the CERB. You should not have applied to both – EI applications for COVID-19 related layoffs were automatically switched to the CERB.

In a statement, Hossack said “Service Canada and the CRA have been working together to continually review the CERB payments for accuracy,” as Service Canada handles EI payments while the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) is rolling out the emergency benefit payments.

“Together, they will ensure that each eligible Canadian receive only up to the maximum $8,000 payment they could be entitled to over the 16-week period under Canada Emergency Response Benefit.”

In an email, a spokesperson for the Office of the Minister of National Revenue, which handles the CRA, said the agency was working on a solution for people who mistakenly applied to both EI and the CERB.

ALSO READ: B.C. unveils $3.5M COVID-19 emergency fund for post-secondary students

The emergency benefit was implemented to replace EI for workers who lost their jobs or self-employed people who had lost their income as a result of COVID-19, after federal ministers said the EI system was overwhelmed. It is meant to provide $2,000 per month, paid out in weekly sums of $500. 

Hossack further clarified, by phone, that since the CERB is a taxable benefit, it will be included in the CRA’s tax calculations next year, when people submit their 2020 returns. If anyone does get overpaid, including if they return to work, that will be sorted come tax time.

One B.C. resident’s bank account shows two back-to-back payments titled ‘Canada EI,’ totalling up to $3,000 despite only being laid off for two weeks. (Submitted/Black Press Media)

The emergency benefit application portal was launched April 6, leading nearly one million people to apply on the first day alone.

Ottawa said the emergency benefits program would replace EI for a 16-week period, and would be retroactive to March 15. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said people who applied for coronavirus-related EI would not have to reapply for the emergency benefit but would get switched over automatically. Payments have begun to roll out this week.

But the switch hasn’t been seamless, according to some who have faced dropped calls to federal hotlines dedicated to benefits inquiries. Others have taken to social media saying they have waited several weeks to receive EI payments, despite government officials waiving the one-week waiting period to expedite the transfer of funds.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

@ashwadhwani

ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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