Benefit to COVID 19 impacted workers may be model for future

By Jordan Press

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ The newly created benefit for workers whose livelihoods are affected by COVID-19 may be a model for how the federal government helps unemployed Canadians in the future, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Thursday.

Dubbed the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the $2,000-a-month taxable benefit will be available to any worker who earned $5,000 in the previous year and whose income drops to zero due to COVID-19.

Qualtrough says the government opted for the single benefit because the decades-old employment insurance system wasn’t designed to handle an economic shock where millions of workers wouldn’t qualify for assistance.

Funded partially outside the EI system, the new benefit has pushed direct financial aid in the economic package to $52 billion, out of the $107 billion overall total.

Qualtrough said close to 10 per cent of EI-eligible workers have applied for help in just over a week and the labour crunch is likely to get worse.

That works out to approximately 1.5 million workers.

But there are still more than five million workers or almost one-quarter of the overall Canadian workforce who aren’t eligible for EI, including because they may be self-employed, a gig worker, or don’t have enough qualifying hours.

“What we’re going to show through the CERB is that we can actually have a really straightforward income-support system at the federal level,” Qualtrough said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

“This could be the impetus to really, radically simplify how people access income support from the federal government.”

That’s a discussion her department has been having for some time, and the pandemic will fuel those talks, she said, but it’s a conversation that won’t be settled quickly.

Instead, Qualtrough said the government is focused on the labour situation right now one she warned would get worse before it improves.

With the benefit about to be introduced, the government warned Thursday of a text scam that may be praying on concerned workers by asking them to reply or click on a link to get the CERB, which isn’t officially available yet.

“I want to remind everyone that the government’s website is the best place to find reliable information on everything we’re doing,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Trying to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has forced governments to order businesses closed and companies to ask employees to work from home. The uncertainty has many small- and medium-sized businesses wondering if they’ll reopen once the economic storm has passed.

An analysis published Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated that nearly two millions workers are at the greatest risk of being laid off by the end of the month. If three-quarters of those workers lost their jobs by March 31, the national unemployment rate would rise to 13.9 per cent the worst it’s been in 70 years, wrote David Macdonald, the centre’s senior economist.

The government is urging any worker eligible for EI who loses their job due to COVID-19 to apply now for help. And for those who don’t qualify, Qualtrough said they should sign up for an online account through the Canada Revenue Agency to prepare for the new benefit being made available next month.

To qualify, an affected worker will have to reside in Canada and have earned $5,000 in the previous 12 months  including new parents who earned EI parental benefits _and have had their income dried up because of COVID-19. An online portal is supposed to be up on April 6, with the first automatic payments arriving 10 days after people apply.

Those who receive the benefit will have to reaffirm their eligibility every four weeks.

The benefit will be taxed, like EI payments, and the government will square up any issues during tax time next year.

“If we find out that you weren’t truthful or that you had income you didn’t declare, that will actually be swept up at the back end,” Qualtrough said.

EI for COVID-19? What we know so far about the new emergency response benefit

The excerpted article was written BY  

The Trudeau government recently unveiled an all-new benefit for Canadians reeling from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic: the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

CERB would deliver $2,000 every four weeks for up to four months to workers who lose their income as a result of COVID-19. The new program combines and replaces two previously announced benefits — the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit — and raises the government’s spending on direct financial aid to $52 billion.

While CERB was part of the Liberals’ Emergency Response Act, which has already received royal assent, details on the program are still scant. Ottawa expects around four million applications for the new benefit, a source within the Canada Revenue Agency, which will be administering the program, told Global News.

Here’s what we know so far, along with some of the major questions that arise from the information the government has released as of March 26. Global News will be updating this article as more details emerge.

Who can apply for CERB?

CERB will be available to “all Canadians who have ceased working due to COVID-19,” a press release from the Department of Finance says. That’s regardless of whether applicants would also qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) or not, the document adds.

CERB will apply to wage earners as well as contract workers and freelancers. Canadians will be able to access the benefit whether they have lost their income as a result of the economic repercussions of the health emergency or can’t earn an income because they are sick, quarantined, caring for someone with COVID-19 or have had to stop working in order to care for children who are either sick or home from school and daycare.

Canadians who are still formally employed but not receiving any income would also be able to receive CERB.

“This would help businesses keep their employees as they navigate these difficult times,” according to the Department of Finance.

The list of beneficiaries is long, but at least two major questions about eligibility have emerged so far.

First, it’s not clear whether the benefit would apply only to Canadians who have seen their income reduced to zero or whether workers who have seen a significant reduction in income but are still bringing in some money would also be able to apply.

“That’s the gap in their program, without a shadow of doubt,” said Lindsay Tedds, a professor of economics at the University of Calgary.

The second question is whether Canadians who would normally qualify for either EI would be able to choose whether to apply for it or CERB.

First, it’s not clear whether the benefit would apply only to Canadians who have seen their income reduced to zero or whether workers who have seen a significant reduction in income but are still bringing in some money would also be able to apply.

“That’s the gap in their program, without a shadow of doubt,” said Lindsay Tedds, a professor of economics at the University of Calgary.

The second question is whether Canadians who would normally qualify for either EI would be able to choose whether to apply for it or CERB.

Don’t wait for Parliament, start processing applications for financial aid now: Singh

By Joan Bryden

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is urging the federal government to immediately begin accepting applications for emergency financial aid from Canadians struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Singh says the government should begin receiving applications now so that it can get the money into the hands of Canadians as quickly as possible after Parliament approves the legislation necessary to get a promised $82 billion in direct financial assistance and tax deferrals flowing.

Parliament is to be recalled sometime next week and opposition parties have signalled their willingness to quickly approve the legislation.

Singh says he’s alarmed that many people who are without income now as businesses shut down all across the country to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus won’t get any of the emergency federal financial help until April or even May.

He says starting the application process now will ensure no one waits  “one day longer than absolutely necessary.”

Among other things, the government has promised to create two new emergency benefits for Canadians who don’t qualify for employment insurance and to increase the GST credit and the Canada Child Benefit.

In his letter to Trudeau on Thursday, Singh said his party will ensure the governing Liberals, who hold only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, will have the majority needed to pass the legislation putting the emergency measures into effect.

“It is my hope that knowing that your government will be able to pass these measures, you will be able to immediately open up applications and provide Canadians with information on how to access these new programs,” he wrote.

“Waiting until April to begin the application process means that Canadians will unnecessarily wait several more weeks to get the help they need.”

The emergency aid package is likely to be expedited with unanimous support through Parliament, which adjourned last week until April 20. But it will be recalled briefly next week to deal with the necessary legislation.

The Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois and Greens have all signalled their willingness to deal with it quickly.

Conservative Senate leader Don Plett said Thursday he expects the legislation will be debated and approved in one day in the House of Commons, possibly Tuesday, and the next day in the Senate, without amendment or delay.

“We are in an emergency situation here and we need to approve a stimulus package to keep the country going, to keep Canadians going here,” Plett said in an interview.

The governing Liberals are discussing with opposition parties how to minimize the number of MPs and senators who actually need to return next week, while maintaining each party’s proportional share of seats. The House of Commons requires only 20 MPs to be present for quorum; the Senate requires 15 senators.

Although the NDP will support the legislation, Singh urged the government to do more, including dramatically increasing a promised payroll subsidy of 10 per cent.

“Businesses may choose to keep people employed, with drastically reduced hours, in order to qualify for the subsidy. These employees may be worse off than if they had been laid off and could collect EI,” he said.

Singh also suggested that the government could double payments this month of existing income support programs, like the child benefit, to ensure that getting financial help to those who need it is “fast and easy.”

Most businesses not covered for potential interruptions from COVID-19, insurance industry warns

The insurance industry is sounding the alarm that most businesses in Canada are not covered for the potential business interruptions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Generally, commercial insurance policies and traditional business interruption policies do not offer coverage for business interruption or supply-chain disruption due to a pandemic such as COVID-19,” said Craig Stewart, vice-president, federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Businesses and individuals typically take out property and casualty (P&C) insurance to cover for natural disasters such as storms and fires. For example, about $3.7-billion of the damage caused by the 2016 fires in Fort McMurray, Canada’s costliest disaster, were covered by insurance.

Specialty coverage for disruption of business and supply-chain operations due to a pandemic does exist, and it could have been triggered by the World Health Organization’s official designation last week of the global outbreak as such. But “it is anticipated that the number [of companies that have it] is quite limited,” Mr. Stewart said.

Jennifer Beaudry, a spokeswoman for Intact Financial Corp., Canada’s largest P&C insurer, said coverage for pandemics “is not common in Canada and Intact does not offer [it].” She said Intact’s base contracts require an insured party to have a damaged building, equipment or stock on location to trigger business-interruption coverage.

Insurance-industry officials briefed the federal government last week about the potential issue after Ottawa reached out to key sectors to gauge how the pandemic could affect them.

“The government is in contact with Canadian insurers,” a finance department spokesperson said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “We understand that not every business has business-interruption insurance and that pandemics are not likely covered in this type of insurance. If businesses have questions about their coverage, they should consult with their insurance advisers.”

Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), a leading business lobby group, said as a result of the pandemic, “manufacturers will have to shut down, business continuity will be affected and, unfortunately, it is unclear if they will be able to rely on their insurance policies.” The CME has urged the government to take steps to blunt the impacts on the Canadian economy.

The government moved Friday to help the private sector by making $10-billion in business credit financing available through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. In addition, the Bank of Canada slashed interest rates and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions lowered the domestic stability buffer for Canada’s systemically important large banks, enabling them to increase their lending capacity by more than $300-billion.

Source: Chris Helgren – Reuters

Lost your job because of COVID-19? Employment insurance might help.

Lost your job because of COVID-19? Employment insurance might help.

Rory McGouran | Discover Humboldt

Service Canada is ready to support Canadians affected by COVID-19 and placed in quarantine.

Individuals who are asked to stay at home, or who are in self-quarantine, can not always complete their work from home. Therefore, Service Canda has made special exceptions when it comes to Employment Insurance (EI) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as cough, fever, difficulty breathing or you are in self-isolation or quarantine, do not visit or enter any Service Canada office. As an alternative, you may access their services online or by calling 1 800 O-Canada.

Employment Insurance provides up to 15 weeks of income replacement for a variety of reasons for which one can not work. Canadians quarantined can apply for Employment Insurance sickness benefits.

According to Service Canada, they have put these support actions in place to help individuals in quarantine.

  • The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
  • Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period.
  • Priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for clients under quarantine.
  • People claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine will not have to provide a medical certificate.
  • People who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.

For the new dedicated EI toll-free phone number if you are in quarantine, call 1-833-381-2725

The website also offers vast information when it comes to Labour Programs and federally regulated workplaces, as well as Work-Sharing Programs.

How are insurers working with plan sponsors amid coronavirus pandemic?

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association has been conducting weekly calls with its members since mid-January to discuss issues around the ongoing coronavirus crisis, including how insurers can develop messaging and policies to communicate to plan sponsors.

“We’ve basically been facilitating weekly calls to say, ‘OK, we have a very fluid situation.’ It changes almost daily, so [we’re] talking about best practices, talking about what’s known and what’s unknown,” says Joan Weir, the CHLIA’s director of health and disability policy.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. But even before that stark announcement the CHLIA had been helping its member companies — which account for 99 per cent of Canada’s life and health insurance business — develop short-term disability leave policies for their plan sponsor clients to in turn communicate to plan members.

About six weeks ago, the CLHIA began recommending that plan sponsors waive the waiting period for short-term disability benefits if an employee is quarantined so they can stay at home and still receive their salary. “And we . . . developed an industry form where the person fills [it] out on their own, so as not to make them go to a physician to get a referral, which is a really important part of this, right? Because you don’t want someone who is possibly infected going into a health-care practitioners’ office and infecting everyone else.”

Over the past several weeks, Canada’s major insurers have been communicating with plan sponsors regarding everything from disability coverage to travel insurance to employee assistance programs. Last week, RBC Insurance Services Inc. sent a message to its plan sponsor clients saying it was giving a “time limited exception” to the need for an attending physician’s statement for a short-term disability claim and provided a form that could be filled out by plan members and then emailed to RBC directly.

In an emailed statement, Canada Life said it’s waiving the waiting period for short-term disability benefits for those who are eligible due to the coronavirus. It’s also considering claims for individuals who are under quarantine at the direction of a physician, treatment provider or other public health official, and who are also unable to work from home.

“We are adopting this approach to help minimize any financial disincentive to support the quarantine efforts across Canada,” wrote a spokesperson for the insurer. “As a leading provider of group health benefits, Canada Life, together with our industry peers, has been working with the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association on an industry approach to handling claims relating to the coronavirus. Most of the concerns we have been hearing from plan members relate to out-of-country medical emergency and travel assistance, as well as disability coverage.”

In RBC’s note, it advised that plan members who contract coronavirus while abroad, or who are being quarantined abroad, should call a toll-free number to get more information about their specific situation. In general, the insurer said its emergency medical coverage will be extended automatically for the full duration of the quarantine and until plan members can return back to Canada at no extra charge.

Canada Life is assessing claims relating to coronavirus based on the terms of the plan member’s respective group benefits plan, including any claims that occur during travel to a country with a travel advisory warning, according to the emailed statement.

In terms of personal travel, March break is coming up next week, so employers will have to come up with policies regarding employees returning from international holidays, says Weir.

Plan sponsors and insurers can, and should, consider lessons learned from previous global health emergencies, such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and the SARS outbreak in 2003, says Alex Boucher, principal and total health management leader at Mercer Canada.

“Dust off your old pandemic plans. . . .  It’s the right time to revisit those plans around communicating,” he says. “We strongly recommend employers and insurers review those plans for applicability. And our overall message for Canadian organizations is that preparation is better than reaction.”

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