What you need to know about COVID benefits: May edition

Don't forget to reapply for the CERB!

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MICHELLE SPOLLEN
  • Michelle Spollen
Since the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit AKA the CERB opened to Canadians in early April, over seven million people have applied. Stats Canada reported almost two million jobs lost in April, as the employment rate dipped by 11 percent.

In Nova Scotia, unemployment is below the national average of 13 percent, but still climbed three points to 12 percent amid mass COVID-19 closures. About 10,000 people in the province lost a job between March and April. If you’re one of them, you’ve likely applied for government assistance.
Employment took a plunge in April - STATISTICS CANADA
  • Statistics Canada
  • Employment took a plunge in April

But keep in mind that federal announcements are changing daily and programs are being adjusted by the government often. Here’s the latest information about whether you need to reapply, and which programs fit your situation.

Time to re-apply

The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit first opened on April 6. Back then, you couldn’t apply if you were making any income, but that’s since changed to allow people to make up to $1,000 a month and still apply.

But if you lost the rest of your income to the pandemic, earned a minimum of $5,000 over the past year, and are a Canadian resident of working age, this is the benefit for you.

If you haven’t taken a look at the CERB application page since your first time around, keep in mind that you have to re-apply every four weeks to get a fresh payment. You can get up to four $2,000 payments (a total of 16 weeks' worth) between March 15 and the end of September.

The current eligibility period for CERB is May 10, 2020, to June 6, 2020. Keep in mind there are seven CERB eligibility periods, and you can only receive a payment during four of them.

(Click here for a how-to on applying for the CERB.)

Student benefit now open

If you’re a student, this is the benefit you’ve been waiting for: the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). It just opened for applications on May 15, and you qualify if you’re a post-secondary student, recent graduate, or recent high school graduate who can’t find a job due to COVID.

The benefit is $1,250 for a four-week period, or $2,000 if you’re a student with dependents or a disability. There are only four four-week periods for the CESB, between May 10 and August 29, meaning you can apply for all of them. However, the government does say they’ll require proof you’re still trying to find summer employment, despite COVID-19.

Nova Scotia benefits

Nova Scotians who make less than $34,000 a year (but more than $5,000) can qualify for a one-time, $1,000 payment from the provincial government. This fund, called the Worker Emergency Bridge Fund, is intended for people who lost work due to COVID but don’t qualify for EI.

To apply, you can’t be making any income, and must also apply for the CERB benefit. This one requires a bit more documentation than CERB, as you must provide a record of employment (ROE) to prove you were laid off. You can apply by calling the Red Cross, who is administering the fund, at 1-800-863-6582.

Don’t forget about tax season

The government says CERB is taxable income, but it hasn’t been taxed off the top the way EI is. “You will be expected to report it as income when you file your income tax for the 2020 tax year,” says its CERB Q&A page.

If you receive a total of $8,000 taxable income over four CERB eligibility periods, your tax rate will depend on your total income for 2020. If you make less than $48,585 annually, your tax bracket is 15 percent. The percentage of your CERB you’ll owe back to the CRA owe goes up from there, to a high of 33 percent if you make over $214,368.

There are also provincial tax rates to think about. In Nova Scotia, you pay 8.79% back on the first $29,590 of taxable income, 14.95 percent on the next $29,590, up to 21 percent on over $150,000.

Find out your federal and provincial tax rate, add them together and you’ll figure out how much you should save (but most economists recommend saving about 20 percent). So for every $500 CERB payment you get in your account, you should put $100 of it (20 percent) away, or at least give it a mental "this money isn't mine forever".

Government clawbacks

Remember to ensure you qualify for the benefits you’re applying for. Because of the large influx of applications right now, the government is essentially giving money to everyone who asks.

But come tax season next year, the CRA will be cross-referencing income statements with CERB and CESB applications and taking back the money if you didn’t deserve it.

"We knew that there would be a need to clean up after the fact, to go after fraudulent cases, and we will do that,” said PM Trudeau last week.

CBC reported that the CRA expects about two or three percent of claims for the CERB to be fraud, and to be clawed back in April 2021.

The CRA has also introduced a new option on its "My CRA” account online portal to make it easier for honest Canadians to pay back benefits they want to return.

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