It took less than two hours for the first user reviews to arrive after the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) online portal opened Monday morning.
“Successfully applied for the #CERB at 6.01am … Fully expected it to crash. It didn’t. Easy as pie,” tweeted one applicant at 7:26 a.m. who goes by the moniker Suburban Voyeur on Twitter.
“I clicked literally three boxes,” she later added in response to numerous other applicants who appeared to have found it just as easy to apply for the special benefit program for those out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s so easy I thought it was fake,” another applicant told the Post, explaining that all he had to do was log into his Canada Revenue Agency account, click on the appropriate link and answer three questions before getting an approval message from the CRA saying the $2,000 benefit would be in his account within three days.
Close to one million applications for the CERB — which offers people $2,000 a month for up to 16 weeks — were filed through the CRA-operated processing portal within 24 hours of the benefit becoming available, according to the federal government, perhaps the largest-ever number of unemployment claims filed in a single day to date.
Since March 15, the government has received a staggering 3.7 million claims for employment insurance (EI) and the CERB, illustrating just how severe the coronavirus-related unemployment crisis is.
It’s been a mere four weeks since the World Health Organization declared the novel virus to be a global pandemic, triggering an almost complete shutdown of non-essential services across Canada and other countries.
But despite the number of CERB applications, the CRA portal appears to be rising to the occasion, processing claims in mere minutes and promising income support within three to five days for those who have set up direct deposit.
Bobbi, a self-employed courier service worker in Edmonton, said she set her alarm at 4 a.m. on Monday morning in order to be ready to apply as soon as the system opened at 6 a.m. eastern time.
“I logged into my CRA account, and the application was there to be completed,” she said.
Bobbi only had to confirm she was qualified for the benefit (you have to be out of work for a period of 14 days prior to applying) before choosing from a drop-down menu to indicate the four-week time frame in which she was applying for the benefit (she chose March 15 to April 11).
The final step was a warning message indicating that any money falsely claimed would have to be paid back.
I started the application at 4 a.m. and finished at approximately 4:02 or 4:03 a.m.
Courier service worker in Edmonton
“When I pushed the next button, a pop-up on the screen said I had successfully applied and that the money would be deposited into my account in three days,” Bobbi said. “I started the application at 4 a.m. and finished at approximately 4:02 or 4:03 a.m.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said his government is relying on the honour system to process the sheer volume of income support claims, a sharp departure from the relatively detailed requirements to process EI claims, which demand, among other things, a record of employment and proof of the reason you’re no longer working.
“Speed is of the essence in this situation and the government has said right from the beginning it will have to be an honour system,” said Armine Yalnizyan, a fellow at the Atkinson Foundation, who recently served as a senior policy adviser at Employment and Social Development Canada.
“You cannot process this many claims at the speed that is required with so many questions,” she said, adding that the “integrity of the system” will be dealt with when people file their 2020 tax returns next year.
The apparent ease of applying for the CERB has left some Canadians who were laid off well before the pandemic hit, but encountered difficulties in the EI system, contemplating a CERB application instead.
Erin Branbury, who was laid off from her job in the food industry last December, had been receiving EI “flawlessly” until a mailing address change somehow halted the process. The Saskatoon resident can now neither find a job because of COVID-19 nor get in touch with a government agent on the phone to figure out why she is not receiving her EI cheques.
“I’m really frustrated, because I keep getting a busy signal,” Branbury said. “I’m considering applying for CERB, because I’ve been cut off from EI and can’t get a job because of this pandemic.”
Technically, the CERB is only available to Canadians who have been laid off because of COVID-19, not those who were previously laid off and are now unable to find work because of the mass shutdowns.
On Monday, in his usual mid-morning address to the public, Trudeau confirmed that there would be “adjustments” made to the CERB to include those who are working 10 or fewer hours and those who are still working but making less than they would if they applied for the benefit.
“It is amazing how quickly we extended coverage to so many people, but it is also amazing how many people were left out,” Yalnizyan said.
“The most difficult part right now is the mental pivot that has to happen amongst policymakers who for so long have designed EI systems to discourage people from leaving work, to encourage them to stay at home if they can. It’s tricky, but the government is hearing this, and they are in the process of repairing these holes.”
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