As I write this week’s report from Ottawa, we have just finished a special all-night session of Parliament passing Bill C-13, "An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19."
Despite some initial challenges and delays, it was reassuring to see that we were able to reach consensus.
As much as I would like to share the contents of this bill with you, it is far more important to share with you a program that was announced today enabled by the passing of measures in C-13.
This program is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced two different COVID-19 Employment Insurance (EI)-like programs — the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit.
The fact that there were two programs was complicated to Canadians and required more administration.
It became evident that, despite the best intentions of these programs to help Canadians most in need, they were creating many gaps that would result in Canadians not getting the help they needed, at a critical time.
As a result, these programs have been rolled into a single Canada Emergency Response Benefit program (CERB) that has significantly increased criteria to help eliminate the gaps from the previously announced programs.
CERB is a taxable benefit that can provide $2,000 a month, for up to four months, to workers who lose their income as a result of the pandemic.
CERB is intended to cover citizens who have ”lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.”
This program applies to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance.
Another important aspect is that the CERB program will also apply to “workers who are still employed, but are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19."
The details of exactly how that will work are as yet undefined.
Once the online application portal is open through a My CRA or My Service Canada account, and a yet to determined toll-free number, the intent is that eligible applicants would begin to receive their CERB payments within 10 days of application.
A CERB payment would be made to applicants every four weeks.
I commend the federal government for recognizing the programs they announced last week were not the response that Canadians needed and for coming back with a simplified, comprehensive and, it is my hope, an effective solution.
However, the greatest challenge that still remains is the capacity of government to deliver this program to those most in need, in a timely manner.
As many will know, close to one million Canadians have applied for EI benefits. This is the largest week of unemployment claims in Canadian history.
As of Monday of this week, 143,000 of these EI claims have been processed, also the most ever in a single week.
The challenge is, at that current pace, it will be close to six weeks before all of the current claims can be processed.
This does also not take into account the increasing layoffs that are occurring daily.
As the Official Opposition, we continue to raise the need to increase capacity to deliver these much-needed services and also to raise concerns if there are those who are still falling through the cracks.
Dan Albas is the MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.
Email: Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca. Phone: 1-800-665-8711.