Canada Place on Jasper Avenue, Sept. 22. The CERB program that was implemented in March ends on Sept. 26. (Corbin Stewart)

The end of CERB and its impact on local residents

CERB is ending soon and many people will be left with difficult decisions moving forward.

By: Corbin Stewart

 

For many Edmontonians this fall, uncertainty is in the air. The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and COVID-19 is still raging on.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has been a saving grace for those whose jobs were affected by COVID-19. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, approximately 2.7 million Canadians will be worst off when CERB ends on Sept. 26. Those who are still receiving it will either transition to Employment Insurance (EI) or one of three new temporary benefit programs. The only other option is to go back to work.

James MacPhail, 22, falls into the latter category. Like millions of Canadians, he was temporarily let go from his job in March when all non-essential businesses were closed. He has collected CERB since.

“It’s been a major stress relief and peace of mind to know that there is something helping us out,” says MacPhail.

The new EI model will provide those who are eligible between around $400 and $570 a week depending on your situation. (Corbin Stewart)

MacPhail has been living in the downtown core for three years and works part-time as a line cook at the Cactus Club Cafe on Jasper Avenue while also attending school. When restaurants re-opened in mid-May, MacPhail went back to work but continued to receive CERB payments to help pay for essentials like rent and groceries. Since he currently works part-time and makes less than $1000 during each eligibility period, MacPhail could still collect CERB payments. He says that he is grateful for the help CERB has provided him but hopes that others like himself are ready to get back to work this fall.

“I’m better off coming out the other side of it than having nothing, but I think we need to get back to normalcy.”

A poll about CERB and EI conducted on MacEwan University’s book exchange Facebook page. SOURCE: Survey Monkey

In August, the Liberal government announced a $37 billion plan to revamp the current EI model. To qualify for EI, you need to have at least 120 hours of work logged and receive a minimum of $400 per week. This is a much lower number compared to the old model of between 420 and 700 insurable hours. The three new benefit programs give temporary aid to those who either don’t qualify for EI, have to self-isolate, or are primary caregivers. These programs provide a benefit of $500 per week for up to 26 weeks.

Dante Policicchio, 22, works for the City of Edmonton, testing concrete almost daily along Jasper Avenue and the downtown core. Although he never collected CERB, his temporary contract is ending soon which will place him under the new EI model. Policicchio says that many construction workers go on EI throughout the year, and he is happy that the updated version will be able to potentially accommodate more people.

“The entire construction industry is based on seasonal jobs,” says Policicchio. “For that reason, EI is a good thing because it keeps people wanting to do these jobs.”

Another idea that has quickly gained traction – replacing CERB with a universal basic income (UBI). According to government statistics, 8.79 million unique Canadians have applied for CERB since its launch, which is around 23 per cent of the entire population. A UBI system guarantees that 100 per cent of Canadians receive some kind of income regardless of employment.  There was even a rally held in Edmonton this month in favour of basic income. Some argue that a UBI allows more Canadians to participate in the economy, however, not everybody agrees with this idea.

“People might get more complacent and less inclined to work,” MacPhail says. “I feel like it will diminish the economy, and everything will be stagnant.”

Whether you are eligible to transition to one of the updated benefit programs or not, the end of September will be stressful for millions of Canadians affected by the final payment of CERB.

As of Sept. 21, there were over 711 active COVID-19 cases in the Edmonton region and Edmontonians will soon face more difficult choices. Some will successfully transition to the updated payment models, while others will go back to work.

For those unaware, if they are eligible for EI or another benefit package, you can visit the Government of Canada website for more information.

 

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