Nearly 100,000 students asked to repay CERB benefits they claimed during the COVID-19 pandemic may soon get a break.
Under an Order-in-Council, passed without fanfare earlier this month, students will be able to deduct any amount they may have received under the Student COVID Relief Program from the amount of CERB benefits they receive. we ask them to reimburse.
Carla Qualtrough, Minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, said the government realized when it tracked benefit payments that it made during the pandemic, that many students who received benefits under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) should have actually applied for a different program – the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. students (PCUE).
While the CERB program paid benefits to workers who had lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CESB was designed to help students who were unable to find employment in the first place due to the pandemic.
In some cases, students were told they had to repay thousands of dollars in CERB payments they had received, but it was too late to apply for the student allowance.
A remission order, passed by Cabinet on June 2, aims to address what Qualtrough describes as an “inequity”.
“If we determine that you owe money for CERB, you can say to yourself, well, if I had known that I was not eligible for CERB, I would have applied for the student allowance because I know that I was eligible for it,” Qualtrough said in an interview with CBC News. “You are the person we are going to help with this. You are the person we are fixing this inequity for.”
Qualtrough estimates the move could help around 98,000 students.
No other re-readiness decree: Qualtrough
While CERB payments were $2,000 per month, the student benefits program paid $1,250 per month, Qualtrough said. She said that amount can now be used to reduce the amount of money some students are asked to repay.
“It will really significantly offset any amount that people will be deemed to owe in reimbursement from CERB.”
When the government first telegraphed its plans to fix the problem in the financial outlook last December, it had earmarked $67.9 million for debt relief.
Qualtrough said passage of the remission order was delayed in part because the government suspended CERB overpayment recoveries due to the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
“We had decided, because of Omicron, not to actively pursue CERB debt at this point,” Qualtrough explained. “So now that we’re back to the point where we’re tracking individuals telling them what they may owe on CERB, we’re now able to implement that remission order at the same time.”
Watch: Ongoing help for students being asked to repay CERB money:
To be eligible for the remission order, a student should have applied for CERB on or before September 30, 2020 and not have received benefits such as CESB, Employment Insurance, or provincial maternity or parental leave benefits at the same time. time. They must also meet one of three criteria: they were unable to work due to COVID-19; they were looking for work; they worked and earned $1,000 or less before tax during the four-week CESB period for which they could have applied.
The Canada Revenue Agency has set up a website describing the terms of the remission order and a link to the application form.
CBC News asked the CRA if it informs students of the rebate order when it sends out refund notices. Spokesman Christopher Doody says the CRA does not mention the potential disruption for students in its refund notices because it “has no way of identifying who would qualify under the rebate order. “.
If a student has already repaid the CERB benefits they received, they will be refunded the difference, Qualtrough said.
Qualtrough said the government has no plans at this time for further remission orders
While the government is telling some CERB recipients they have to repay benefits, Qualtrough said the government is “desperately trying to make this as painless as possible for people” and allowing them to make payments over months or even years.
“We really try to be as flexible as possible, trying to make sure that … it doesn’t make or prevent someone from paying their bills,” Qualtrough said, adding that the majority of people asked to CERB benefits in good faith, believing that they were entitled to CERB.
Taylan McRae-Yu, director of strategy for the Canadian Federation of Students, said his group was happy to see student aid, but believed the government should go further.
“COVID and the cost of living crisis along with rising tuition fees have forced some students to choose between paying off an additional loan, basic needs and academic success.”
One of the former students who received a reimbursement letter in May from the CRA is Joanna Clark. She first applied for employment insurance and instead received CERB benefits. Now the elementary school teacher is being asked to pay back $2,000 she doesn’t have.
Clark said the government did not notify her of the surrender order. She hopes to get it.
“If that means I don’t have to pay back $2,000, that would make all the difference.”