The federal government has started to clear its backlog of 1.6 million employment insurance claims through an expedited process that will pay $2,000 a month to all applicants.
The payments are the same as the ones that will be offered as of April 6 under the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is designed to help workers who have lost income or been forced to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CERB will cover workers who are not eligible for EI, such as those who are self-employed or who work part-time.
The government received 2.13 million EI claims over the past two weeks, but has only been able to process 430,000 of them. The accelerated processing of the remaining claims will allow the government to clear the backlog over a period of less than a week, at a pace of about 400,000 claims a day.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough acknowledged that some workers could have earned more than $2,000 a month under the regular EI stream, but that they will be eligible for the payments once the CERB is retired in four months.
“The decision to streamline, automate and simplify the process meant one benefit for everyone,” she said, adding the move was made “out of the necessity of these extraordinary circumstances.”
The EI payments will be made available within five days through direct payment, or up to 10 days by cheque. Those who have already applied under EI will not need to file a new application under the CERB.
The government received the same number of EI claims over the past two weeks as were received over the entire 2018-19 fiscal year.
“The reality is that our EI system was not designed to address a global public-health crisis and its significant economic impacts. It doesn’t cover all types of workers, particularly those with irregular hours and lower pay, often filled by Canada’s more vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, youth and new Canadians,” Ms. Qualtrough said.
Workers do not have to be laid off to access the CERB, and Ms. Qualtrough said the government’s goal is to get ready for the moment when Canadians can return to work.
“At the end of this, it is in our economic interest to keep our employees attached to their jobs because we will be able to come out of this quicker if businesses have survived and people still have jobs,” she said.
While EI is administered by Service Canada, the CERB will be administered by the Canada Revenue Agency.
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said that to ease the influx of claims starting next week, Canadians should apply based on their month of birth, starting on Monday with those born between January and March. Canadians born between April and June will be asked to apply on Tuesday, to be followed on Wednesday by those born in July, August and September. Those born in the last three months of the year will be asked to apply on Thursday.
In an interview last week, Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said her officials have been working night and day to be ready for the April 6 launch.
She said that last year, CRA delivered more than 100 million cheques to 15 million Canadians, which gives her confidence that computer networks and automated phone lines can handle the coming workload. It is expected that up to four million Canadians will apply for the CERB.
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