The federal government will extend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for two more months to provide reassurance for Canadians unable to find or return to work due to the COVID-19 crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
The prime minister announced the change during his daily press briefing in Ottawa, meeting a key condition for New Democrats to support the government in a confidence vote Wednesday.
The CERB provides taxable payments of $2,000 per month for a maximum of 16 weeks. Those who signed up for the first payments in March when the pandemic hit were set to see their benefit expire in early July.
After three months of economic shutdown, provinces and territories are “gradually and safely” starting to reopen, Trudeau said. But he suggested that the breathing room provided by the eight-week CERB extension reflects that the crisis is far from over.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, we still have a long journey ahead,” he said.
Canadians who have received the CERB but can’t work, because either they are unable to find a job or “it’s just not possible,” will still be able to collect the benefit, he said.
“Over the next few weeks, our government will look at international best practices, and monitor the economy and the progression of the virus to see what changes, if any, need to be made to the program so that more people are properly supported,” he said.
Trudeau would not say how much he expects the extension to cost, saying his government hopes that fewer people will need the help as economies slowly reopen across the country. Liberals have said 1.2 million recipients went off the CERB in May.
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According to the latest federal figures from June 4, up to 8.4 million Canadians have applied for the benefit, which has already paid out more than $43 billion. In a report last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that extending the maximum number of weeks from 16 to 28, and running the program through to January 2021, would cost about $57.9 billion.
Trudeau said his government will continue to encourage Canadians on the CERB to take jobs when they become available.
“The reality is that there are three million people out of work who are looking for work and even as our economy is reopening, there are many, many more people out of work, willing to work, than there are jobs available,” he said. “And that will be the story for the coming weeks as well.”
NDP made CERB extension a condition ahead of key vote
The CERB extension makes it less likely the Liberals will lose a vote on a key spending bill this week, a situation that would lead to the collapse of Trudeau’s minority government.
MPs will meet in the House of Commons Wednesday to debate supplementary estimates of roughly $87 billion, and about $6 billion in new spending that must be approved by a vote. The Liberals need the support of either the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois, or the NDP to pass measures through the House.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Monday that his party wouldn’t vote for the estimates without a plan to extend the CERB.
“There’s going to be millions of Canadians that have no support in just a couple of weeks and they need to know [that] there’s going to be help,” Singh said.
Trudeau later told reporters Monday that a CERB extension was coming, but had no details.
On Monday night, NDP MP Don Davies traded shots on Twitter with Liberal MP Adam Vaughan after Davies claimed that the CERB extension was “another success created by the NDP” applying pressure in Parliament.
Vaughan said the extension was something Liberals had been working on for weeks and that Singh only made his demand after being briefed on the direction the government was headed.
Davies said the NDP had been publicly demanding the extension for weeks, with no commitment from Trudeau.
“Now with no majority support you’ve got a sudden conversion,” Davies wrote. “Nice try.”