Monday, August 24, 2020

Falling Through the Cracks: One person’s experience of the Government’s Financial Assistance During Covid-19 Pandemic

As one of the millions of Canadians effected by COVID-19 I was excited to learn that the government would be offering financial support to those struggling. On March 25th the creation of the Canadian Response Benefit (CERB) was announced by the federal government. Under this benefit Canadians would receive $500 a week for up to 16 weeks (extended to 24 weeks in June 2020). To apply, you must live in Canada, be at least 15, have lost your job due to COVID-19, and had an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or the last 12 months. However this eligibility requirement left many Canadians like me out in the cold. I was one of those Canadians who either did not make enough money, who prior to the outbreak were unemployed, or were still working but had their hours cut down. In my case, I am a Black Woman who graduated out of university in 2019. As I am an inspiring snow boarder and love the mountains, I decided to move to Calgary to join a friend there. Unfortunately, it took me several months before I was able to find a satisfactory job in my career field. Finally, when I did manage to find a job in my field, I experienced workplace racism leading me to quit. Leaving an unhealthy workplace was great for my mental health but not so good for my financial health, as I quit my job prior to making the $5,000 in income, that would have made me eligible to apply in the future for CERB. Unemployed and with no funds to my name I moved to Toronto in search of better employment opportunities.

While many praised the government’s response many others voiced their displeasure and frustration at being over looked by the government. Credit to the Liberal government, they listened when Canadians spoke and a month later in April the government expanded the benefits to include part time employee’s making less then $1,000 a month due to reduced hours. But this was not without flaws. Many Canadians again fell through the cracks of the CERB as workers who made less than $5,000 in the previous year but were able to make over $1,000 a month would not be eligible. I, like many others, again sat back and watched the government announce another stimulus package that we were ineligible to apply to, having been unemployed prior to COVID and still unable to find work.

Then on April 22 the government announced a new benefit, the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). I thought finally I can apply! I recently graduated from school in the fall of 2019 and so with eager anticipation I looked at the eligibility of this benefit. The CESB set out that Canadian students or recent graduates unable to find work, or who are making less than $1,000 a month, would be able to receive $1,250 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks. However to meet the requirements of a student or recent graduate you have to be enrolled in post secondary institution, completed your post-secondary education in December 2019 or later, or be enrolled in a post-secondary program before February 1, 2021. This meant that, although having completed my program in September of 2019 and I feeling like I was just out of school, I was not considered recent enough to meet the requirements of CESB. So once again I was left with no financial resources and increasing debt.

My last recourse was applying for Employment Insurance (EI). Even researching this avenue was unnecessarily complicated and had a lot of hoops you had to jump through to even apply. The simplified requirements of EI eligibility are having been laid off and having worked a certain amount of insurable hours (typically between 420-700 hours in the last 52 weeks). This was the moment my heart truly sank. In the last 52 weeks I had been in school, then moved provinces, found a job, quit said job because of workplace racism, then moved back to Toronto just in time for Covid-19 to hit and experience the widespread workplace closures. In all those weeks I was unable to work the minimum hours needed to receive EI.

At this point I didn’t know what to do and could only laugh as I felt like the only person unable to receive any kind of support from the government. But as I learned in the coming weeks there were thousands of fellow Canadians negatively impacted by the pandemic that were left unsupported by the government. Unemployment is at an all time high and yet, as quoted in an article in Ipolitics, senior economist David Macdonald, estimates that 16 percent of all Canadians unemployed are without any support as they are not eligible for CERB, CESB, or EI. As the pandemic continues to surge and unemployment rages on, I like many Canadians have lost faith in the Federal government’s so called support measures and feel left out to dry.

By Adaku-Huggins Warner

(Adaku is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

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