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Social assistance recipients allowed to top up with CERB payments, depending on province they live in

作者:admin 2020-06-02

The federal government’s emergency-response benefit was originally pitched as a buffer for employed people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic and lockdown.

But thousands of Canadians on welfare and disability benefits are also receiving the $2,000-a-month payments, prompting a patchwork response from the provinces — and widely varying incomes for recipients across the country.

For some provincial governments, the little-known social assistance version of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has even meant a sudden windfall, courtesy of Ottawa.

Welfare and disability benefits recipients are only eligible for CERB if they made $5,000 in work income over the previous 12 months, and have lost most or all of that due to the pandemic. Sill, those who receive it are often making more than they were before.

The federal government has urged provincial administrations that run social assistance to let people keep all of their welfare and CERB cheques.

Only one province and two territories are doing that, while four decided to claw back some of the recipients’ social assistance and others are taking back the entire assistance payments, a boost to their own coffers.

The breakdown is surprising, with Conservative governments among the more generous and some Liberal-run provinces taking the toughest stance.

“It’s really hard to divide the thing along political-partisan lines,” said John Stapleton, a fellow with the Metcalf Foundation and former social assistance expert in the Ontario government. “You got Liberal provinces like Newfoundland Labrador clawing the whole thing back.”

Ontario’s Conservative government is essentially letting recipients keep $1,100 of the CERB payments on top of their provincial social assistance benefits. The province says the money it saves by clawing back the rest is being returned to the assistance program.

“This change will allow existing clients to partially stack their CERB and social assistance benefits,” Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services, said in a statement. “The majority of individuals on social assistance who receive the CERB will see an increase in their monthly income as a result of this change.”

Unlike some other aspects of the massively expensive CERB, that fact has generated little controversy.

That’s like partly because the issue involves the poorest of the poor, with single people on welfare earning just $730 a month in Ontario, and those on disability benefits less than $1,200.

And low-income people have actually seen their costs increase, as the lockdown curbs their ability to shop around for cheaper food or visit food banks, said Stapleton.

If many still employed Canadians are actually saving money in a sort of “isolation dividend,” the country’s neediest citizens are suffering an isolation deficit, and often have good reason to stay confined, he said.

“The majority of people on social assistance are disabled, many of them are immune-compromised,” said Stapleton. “Those are the last people you want coming out (and getting infected with COVID-19). They’re the ones who are going to take up the hospital spaces and ventilators.”

Meanwhile, some landlords have already started to boost the rent on rent-geared-to-income units in response to the temporary boost some recipients have enjoyed, he said.

We made the decision that we would not treat them differently than any others who lost income

CERB provides $500 a week to people who have stopped working because of the pandemic, so long as they made $5,000 within the previous 12 months and did not quit voluntarily.

Provinces allow people on social assistance to earn set amounts of work income as well as their benefits.

Carla Qualtrough, the federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, has urged her provincial counterparts not to “penalize” social assistance recipients who get CERB, but to let the payments “work together,” said government spokeswoman Maya Dura.

Ottawa believes CERB should be considered exempt from clawbacks under provincial social assistance programs, said Dura.

British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Yukon have taken that approach, allowing people on local social benefits to keep both.

Federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough. Blair Gable/Reuters/File

In B.C., about 10,000 of its 200,000-person assistance caseload is getting CERB, mostly disabled people who are allowed to make more work income on top of their benefits than others, said New Democrat Shane Simpson, the province’s social development and poverty reduction minister.

“Almost everybody who is getting the CERB are people who were on disability,” he said in an interview Monday. “Those folks have gone out, they’ve lost income because of the pandemic …We made the decision that we would not treat them differently than any others who lost income.”

Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have taken an in-between approach, clawing back part of the CERB payment from social assistance.

Saskatchewan and the Atlantic provinces are clawing back all of the regular payments they pay to recipients who get the federal cheques, according to a survey by the Maytree advocacy group.

The government says it has paid out $40 billion under CERB to more than 8.2 million claimants by May 24, a month and a half after the program launched.

(Modified May 26, 11:50 to mention rent increases in some units in response to CERB payments.)

• Email: tblackwell@nationalpost.com | Twitter: TomblackwellNP

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