KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – People who are receiving income assistance (IA) benefits and meet the program conditions can apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and will keep the full $2000 monthly payment.
“If an IA client transitions to the CERB, we’ll ensure they maintain their Pharmacare benefits (and bus pass, if applicable) for the duration of CERB,” writes Lynette MacLeod, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Services in an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate.
In essence they are no longer social assistance recipients for the 16 weeks the CERB payments are received because their income exceeds the income assistance threshold.
“When CERB ends or their situation changes, we’ll ensure a smooth transition back onto IA for those clients who need it. And we’ll ensure no clients will see a decrease in their benefit when they transition back onto IA from the CERB,” MacLeod writes.
It is believed that around 10% of people on social assistance receive some income from employment. They are allowed to keep a portion of their earnings, the remainder is clawed back by Community Services.
Not everybody who was employed will qualify for CERB. You must have earned at least $5000 in the last 12 months, and have lost your job for reasons directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Quitting a job voluntarily doesn’t count.
For the people fortunate enough to qualify this is excellent news. The Standard Household Rate for a single person with disabilities is $850 per month, somebody who is able bodied receives between $508 and $586.
The approach by the department does not align with recommendations from the federal government, which funds the CERB program.
“Our government believes the CERB needs to be considered exempt by provinces and territories in the same way as the Canada Child Benefit to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind,” reports The Star, quoting a spokesperson for the federal minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.
In this scenario, apparently being followed in Ontario, people would receive the CERB payments on top of their income assistance rates.
Anxiety and confusion precedes announcement
It appears that people who potentially qualify for CERB started receiving calls from caseworkers over the last week who told them to apply for CERB. But they were not told whether the benefit would be clawed back partially or even entirely, or what would happen when the CERB ends.
This, understandably, caused a lot of anxiety in the community, fellow NS Advocate reporter Kendall Worth reports.
When people got those recent phone calls from their caseworkers, they asked their caseworkers if this is going to be clawed-back from their income assistance. Their caseworkers are telling them, “We do not know whether that is going to be clawed back or not but you are required to apply for that regardless.”
People are also concerned about how to apply for CERB, says Worth.
Many of the advocates and social workers who in more normal times provide support for these kinds of things are not around, or are not meeting in person because of social distancing rules, he says.
As well, how to apply without a phone, and with no access to public library computers is a real problem for some of the people Kendall Worth has spoken with.
“Let’s say you have a friend or relative who has internet at their home and under normal circumstances they let you come over to use it, but not now,” says Worth.
“The Federal Government has a 1-800 number people can call. The problem is several income assistance recipients I talked to tell me they are nervous about calling that number without the people who would normally be their professional advocate present while on that call,” writes Worth. “Also, some Income assistance recipients have cell phones that will not allow you to call 1-800 numbers. A few of them told me this.”
Use departmental savings to boost income assistance rates
With possibly between 5% and 10% fewer recipients receiving benefits for the next months Community Services is bound to save money.
So far people on income assistance, the poorest of the poor, have only received a one-time $50 to deal with the many new needs created by the pandemic, from the need for extra cleaning and hygiene products to the extra costs due to self distancing and quarantines.
Advocates have been asking for an increase in the rates along the lines of what is happening in British Columbia, where people will be receiving an additional $300 monthly in recognition of these extra costs.
Knowing that the department will be saving money because of the CERB program further strengthens their case.
For more on this: CERB rules leave income assistance recipients confused and worried
With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.
Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!