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Kendall Worth: An open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ministers Ahmed Hussen and Bill Morneau about CERB and EI

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and finance minister Bill Morneau. Photo CBC

Note: CERB, the federal program that offers support to people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19, is ending, and the federal government is saying that people who qualify should apply for Employment Insurance. For those who don’t qualify for EI a new benefit will be created, separate for now, but to become part of EI at a later time. 

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) 

Hello,

Early on in the COVID lock down people on income assistance who held (part time) jobs here in Nova Scotia were told by Community Services to apply for CERB and stopped receiving social assistance. The additional money is great but there have been lots of headaches and worries ever since. 

I am writing this letter today because lately things that have been talked about in the news regarding what happens after CERB is finished are raising a lot of unanswered questions for community members who have been receiving CERB over these past few months. 

  • Are we going to be transitioned back into Income Assistance or will we move over to the regular EI system? 
  • How are people going to qualify for EI and how much money will they receive?
  • The Federal government is talking about getting people getting trained for other types of work following CERB. How is this going to happen?
  • What about those of us who will be returning to our jobs?
  • What about those of us who have developed other medical health conditions not related to COVID-19?

As you may remember I have written you two previous letters during this pandemic. In my first letter, Kendall Worth: Open letter – Dear Prime Minister, poor people in Nova Scotia need your help, I talked about how the CERB made a difference here in Nova Scotia where I live. I also stressed in this letter that people receiving the CERB are scared about what type of surprise is coming to them down the road. Things that have been talked about in the news lately are giving these people more reason to be concerned and scared.

Then in this second letter,  Dear Prime Minister, punishing poor people doesn’t solve anything, I talked about you proposing to punish the poor and pointed out this move will not solve anything.

I want to point out that if this new benefit could perhaps be something people living in poverty could apply for with no strings attached then that could potentially avoid us having to go through the reassessment process of getting back into the provincial income assistance system. 

Prime Minister, and other Federal Ministers, I and others believe that what is really needed here in Canada is a way of receiving income where there are no strings attached. 

This system should not just be for people who worked, but also persons with disabilities who either cannot work or in some cases can work only part time jobs. I explain all this here, Why I support a guaranteed basic income.

Included in this new system there would be no systematic harassment. People who used to be on social assistance and who have been receiving the CERB felt they were getting a good break from dealing with our provincial Department of Community Services here in Nova Scotia. I also hear that in other provinces the systems are not much better. 

People who were receiving the CERB instead of Income Assistance were eating healthier and they were able to keep up on rent and bills throughout the short lived experience.  

Some people I talked to in my community recently wondered if either the creation of a new kind of Employment Insurance system, or an entirely new benefit, offers any hope that they will not have to go back to our provincial income assistance program? 

I guess it is just a wait and see thing.

Sincerely,

Kendall Worth

See also: Judy Haiven: Replacing CERB with EI is a recipe for disaster

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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