Amid reports of gaps in the federal government’s assistance program, the federal NDP party is calling for a temporary universal benefit to streamline application processes and ensure every Canadian has access to the funds they need to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney said Friday that the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that comes into effect on April 6 will not be applicable to a large number of Canadians, and that having a more universal approach would expedite the process of getting money into the hands of people who need it.
“Right now, what we’re seeing in our office is people looking at an outline and saying ‘I’m not going to fit within this.’ One of the biggest challenges is trying to find a benefit that is going to fit everybody,” she said. “It’s better to make sure people are secure and safe than it is to worry about the rest of the details. It’s hard to get everything right, but we don’t want anyone to be homeless or to lose everything that they have just because they don’t have the resources.”
A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study published Thursday showed that analysts predict over 800,000 unemployed Canadians would not fall under either the Employment Insurance or CERB benefits. CCPA does tend to lean towards the left side of the economic spectrum, but Blaney said she was seeing these effects first-hand in the constituency.
“We’ve identified several groups that are just going to be left out and they don’t know how they’re going to pay to keep their roof over their head or food on the table,” she said. “It’s getting to basic necessities at this point, and that’s a big concern for me.”
The proposed measure would be a once-per-month payment of $2,000 for every adult in Canada. Those who do not rely on the funding would pay it back at the end of the tax year.
“What the NDP is recommending is to just send out the cheques. If at the end of the year we see that people who have significant amounts of resources who shouldn’t have necessarily gotten the cheques, we can tax them on the other side and get that money back,” she said.
The federal government has not said they would implement the universal benefit idea. People can apply for CERB benefits starting on April 6. However, Blaney thinks the implementation will show the gaps in the system, which will in turn prompt a change in the legislation.
“We’re going to see the implementation starting next week. You’re supposed to know relatively quickly. This is the commitment that the government has made: they’re saying you should be getting cheques three to five days after you apply. I’m assuming that along with that we’ll identify people that were denied and they will be calling offices across Canada and hopefully that’s when the government will understand that this might not be working very efficiently and we just need to get money out the door,” Blaney said.
Parliament will be reconvened in the coming weeks to discuss new legislation, primarily focused on the business wage subsidy. No date has been set for the session. Blaney said that the government is in the process of drafting the legislation, and that in the meantime she would be asking businesses in the area for their thoughts and feedback. Blaney herself will not be sitting in the new session of parliament. She has returned to Campbell River and is in voluntary isolation due to her recent travels. She will also be working to bring a question period to the next parliamentary session so the government can respond to opposition parties and have more accountability.
The CERB application portal will be open starting April 6. Applicants are asked to apply on a specific day based on their birth month to avoid strains on the system. Those born between January and March can apply on April 6, April to June on April 7, July to September on April 8 and October to December on April 9. More information on how to apply and who is elligible can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application.html.