Michelle Berelowitz calls CERB her “lifeline.”
The Oakville mom of a four-year-old boy said she has required the $500 a week that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit provided since mid-March when the pandemic hit because she was self-employed as a consultant for start-up companies.
But now with the federal government winding down CERB this past weekend, Berelowitz, 49, is concerned how she is going to stay afloat.
“I’m paying bills right now and having a bit of a panic,” she said Sunday, adding her family support lives mainly in the U.S.
“I have a four-year-old at home doing virtual (learning). We’re starting the third week and I’m trying to figure out is there a remote possibility of me finding anything to supplement the money.”
Allison Venditti, career coach and founder of Moms at Work, said there is a lot of concern from working mothers who have been laid off or lost their jobs during the past few months.
“CERB ending is going to be very difficult for families who are paying for daycare and desperately looking for work,” she said.
The government is making employment insurance available to CERB recipients who qualify. There’s also a new suite of proposed benefits, but they will require approval of Parliament.
It’s unclear whether Berelowitz and others in the same boat will automatically be transferred to employment insurance or whether she has to apply and wait for the cash to start flowing into her account.
“The government definitely needs to make things clearer because (the situation) is ever-changing,” said Berelowitz.
“I would like to be able to work and I don’t know how many hours I can realistically give a week because my child is doing virtual (learning).”
As of a week ago, CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people, or roughly two in every five members of the nearly 20.2 million-strong labour force in August.
“There are lifelines for a lot of individuals. Will it be enough? For a lot of people, CERB wasn’t enough, $2,000 a month isn’t a lot to live on, but I think we’d all be surprised if we don’t see an effect on the economy,” said Toronto-based personal financial educator Kelley Keehn.
Richard Powers, an associate professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said the feds made the right call to end CERB now.
“There’s still a vulnerable part who are an aging population where it may not be practical to train for a new profession at their age,” he said.
“It certainly causes for concern, but at some point, the government has an obligation of, ‘how are we going to pay for all this?’ They take on billions in debt and at some point, it has to be paid back. I think they’re trying to walk a fine line between providing support Canadians need, but not digging too big a hole.”
The government says there are options for those who were reliant on CERB:
— Employment Insurance: Workers must have clocked in 120 hours of work to qualify for a minimum benefit rate of $400 a week for at least 26 weeks.
— The Canada Recovery Benefit: Targets gig-economy or freelancers who don’t qualify for employment insurance. The program provides $500 a week to those who stopped working because of COVID-19 and had an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or 2020.
— Recovery Sickness Benefit: Provides $500 a week, for up to two weeks, for workers who can’t go to their jobs because they are sick or forced to self-isolate.
— Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit: Will help those who cannot work because they are taking care of a dependent under 12 whose school or daycare is closed because of COVID-19, or caring for a family member with a disability.
The last three options won’t exist unless they’re approved by Parliament.