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How to apply for benefits if you’re laid off in 2021 

Tips for retail or restaurant employees on applying for the Canada Recovery Benefit.

click to enlarge This year has been rough. Here's what you need to know to get the money that can help you through. - THE COAST
  • This year has been rough. Here's what you need to know to get the money that can help you through.
Nova Scotia is in the midst of COVID-19’s second wave. Although we’re not particularly hard hit by case numbers, we’re still seeing the impacts of the pandemic in terms of business shutdowns, slowdowns, and a general lack of disposable income.

“I believe that the darkest months—figuratively and literally—for restaurants and the hospitality sector, will be the ones from now until it's warm enough to open patios,” says Jenner Cormier, owner and operator of Bar Kismet, in an email to The Coast.

For corporations, businesses and employers, there are programs like the Canadian Emergency Worker Subsidy (CEWS) and provincial small business impact grants.

But what’s available for individuals?

“If a person is laid off by their employer, they should apply for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits,” says Isabelle Maheu, a media rep for Employment and Social Development Canada, in an email to The Coast.

The EI requirements changed on September 27, Maheu says, meaning that you can be eligible for a one-time EI benefit with “as little as 120 insurable hours.” This means you’ve worked at least that many hours in the past 52 weeks. If you’re eligible for EI, you need to apply for that before you apply for the CERB's successor, CRB.

For many, the benefits have been much needed after the pandemic put them out of work. “I’d been there for a year. I was laid off right around the 15 of March, when it all started to come about,” says Fred Murphy, who was a chef at Studio East before the pandemic.

Now, Murphy has spent the past ten months on a combination of CERB and EI, while job hunting in an industry that hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels of business.

“I have interviews. Any job that gets posted there’s many, many, many applicants, which is unfortunate for those of us looking,” says Murphy.

When the CERB expired in early October 2020, the CRB—AKA the Canada Recovery Benefit—came into play. It’s available for anyone in Canada over the age of 15 who has a valid SIN number and has lost at least 50 percent of their work due to the pandemic.

Canadians can apply for this fund and receive $500 per week for up to 26 weeks (or 13 eligibility periods) between September 27, 2020 and September 25, 2021. If you’re unsure how many periods you’ve applied for, you can check by logging into your CRA account.

Keep in mind that the government is withholding taxes on CRB, something they didn’t do with the CERB. So the bi-weekly payout amount is about $900, not $1,000. This is 10 percent, but if you’re in a higher income bracket, you might still owe more. And if your total income is over $38,000 for the calendar year, you also must repay half of every dollar received from CRB when taxes are due.

Whether or not you already started applying in fall 2020, you’ve still got a chance to receive more—so long as you’ve had your work reduced by at least 50 percent due to COVID-19, and you’re actively looking for work.

This means even if you’re laid off from your restaurant job because of a slow winter, you must show proof you applied for other jobs, even if you know you will get that job back in the spring.

“We encourage you to consult Job Bank, Canada’s national employment service, that offers tools to help with your job search,” says the CRB website.

Although he plans to keep his spirits up and continue the job search with the hopes of staying in Halifax, Fred Murphy says it’s not easy.

“Even in a non-pandemic year, I think January is a pretty difficult time to find work in a restaurant. It’s a pretty slow time of year, and the pandemic’s definitely affecting that even more,” says Murphy.

The next eligibility period is from January 3 to January 16, 2021—Period 8 if you’ve applied for all of them so far. Applications open once the period closes, on Monday, January 18.

There are also recent changes to the rules that mean if you travelled internationally, you may not be eligible. This comes after public outcry that holiday travellers—whether to Europe, the US or a sunny destination—were technically able to apply based on the original CRB rules.

There are also benefit programs for those who've had to miss work to care for loved ones due to COVID-19, the CRCB and CRSB. And the government's program funding a portion of wages for people who are able to keep working, has been extended until June 2021.

“The Government of Canada is taking immediate action to ensure all three benefits–the CRB, CRCB, and CRSB – do not incent people to disregard the clear public health advice against travelling abroad,” says a release from Employment and Social Development Canada on January 11.

For individual concerns, check out the questions and answers section of the CRB website.


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