The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Early figures for new aid and EI provide glimpse of how post-CERB supports to be used

The CERB ceased to exist on Oct. 3, although people can still retroactively apply for CERB payments

The employment insurance system absorbed almost 1.3 million people in the last three weeks, new figures show, as a key COVID-19 benefit wound down.

A breakdown of applications for the simplified EI program shows that overall there had been more than 1.5 million claims as of late this past week, among them 1.15 million people who were automatically transferred when their emergency benefit ran out.

The figures are enormous for a system that in one day this month handled 246,000-plus claims. In the spring, officials worried the 87,000 applications on one March day would make the decades-old system burst its seams.

Figures obtained by The Canadian Press also show that more than 84 per cent of applications had been processed, which experts who reviewed the numbers noted was a positive sign for the transition off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, better known as the CERB.

Couple that with the more than 300,000 people who turned to a suite of new benefits on the first day they were available, and the figures provide a hint at the ongoing need for income support even as employment has picked up.

Figures on claims can be “valuable in providing a partial, real-time assessment” of the impact COVID-19 has on the labour force, officials wrote to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough in April.

At the time, they were writing in a briefing note about providing regular updates on CERB recipients and payments as “the labour market landscape continues to evolve across the country.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

The CERB ceased to exist on Oct. 3, although people can still retroactively apply for CERB payments until Dec. 2. The government expected up to four million people would use the revamped EI and three additional benefits for those not EI-eligible.

READ MORE: Canadians with COVID-19 or caring for those with it can apply for federal money

Up to 2.8 million people would need EI, based on internal projections from the department that oversees the program. About one million more would likely need the three new benefits.

On the first day it was available this past week, 240,640 people applied for the Canada Recovery Benefit. By that same Monday, a further 107,150 applied for a caregiving benefit and 58,560 applied for the new two-week sickness benefit, both of which had opened for applications the previous week.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had estimated about 5,000 people would use the taxable sickness benefit. Its senior economist David Macdonald said the vastly higher number suggests some EI-eligible workers may have found it easier to apply for the sickness benefit.

“There will be plenty of honest confusion among people as to where they might apply next, and they might take the path of least resistance, which is going to be these (recovery) programs,” said Macdonald, who has closely tracked aid figures.

Mikal Skuterud, a professor and labour economist at the University of Waterloo, said there may also be people who are EI-eligible but apply for the CRB because of other differences in the programs, such as how quickly benefits are clawed back, how long they last, and how much tax is taken off at the source of payments.

“There are some big issues there, but that’s kind of unfair to criticize the government because designing these kinds of income-support programs for self-employed people is a quagmire,” he said.

The first EI payments went out this week, with just over 84 per cent of applicants receiving benefits, a figure experts noted as positive.

The labour market has recouped about 2.3 million of the three million jobs lost when the pandemic first struck. A new round of restrictions amid rising COVID-19 case counts threatens some of those gains.

Given the unknown future path of COVID-19, Scotiabank senior economist Marc Desormeaux said the government will have to be very careful about when it winds down the pandemic benefits.

Ending programs too soon could lead to weak business results as fewer people have money to spend, leading to potential bankruptcies or closures, creating job losses and making employment weak anew.

“We want to try and recover more quickly to the extent that we can, because these things have a way of reinforcing themselves,” he said in an interview.

“At this point, we’re comfortable with these (benefits) being in place, just to provide that certainty and a cushion against potential second-wave impacts.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEI benefits

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shea Long roosts in the Shoot Out in the Telkwa Range. (SnoRiders, Houston/Shea Long photo)
Telkwa Range snowmobiling permit lottery opens

Application period is Oct. 20 to Nov. 20 for snowmobiliers and skiers to gain access to Starr Basin

Students from Houston Secondary School showed up voluntarily on Nov. 29, 2019, during their lunch break to provide input on the board’s strategic plan. (Matthew Monkman/Houston Today)
SD 54 unveils their new logo

Part of the Strategic Draft Plan released by the school district

The Dupras family has been regulars at the Babine River and have seen plentiful grizzlies over the years. (Jay Dupras photo/Lakes District News)
A family’s close encounter with a grizzly on Babine River bridge

Photo-enthusiasts let the bear access the bridge for photos putting others at risk

Catenary poles, from which lights will be strung, mark some of the progress as the 9th St. improvement project nears its finishing date. (Houston Today photo)
Downtown work to continue into end of this month

Finishing touches not expected until next spring

District of Houston office
Wants variance to allow taller building

Property owners adjacent to M. Brown Contracting on Vriend Road have the… Continue reading

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
2 years after huge highway acid spill, Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast their ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Most Read