Where things stand with pandemic benefit programs for individuals

May 28, 2022by Akmin

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the federal government has provided a wide range of pandemic benefit programs for individuals. In the main, those programs have acted to replace income lost where employment income was no longer available as businesses closed during lockdowns, or individuals were unable to work because of illness or because they were at home with young children when schools closed to in-person learning.

As the pandemic waxed and waned over the past two years, pandemic benefit programs offered by the federal government for individual Canadians have been introduced, amended, and replaced, to fit the changing circumstances. Those ongoing changes have made it difficult for individuals to know, at any given time, what benefits are available to them, what the eligibility criteria for those benefits are, and, perhaps most critically, the deadline(s) by which application for such benefits must be made.

As of April 2022, there are three major federal pandemic programs still in existence: the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, the Canada Recovery Caregiver Benefit, and the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit. Each has its own eligibility criteria and benefit amount obtainable, as outlined below.

Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit

As the name implies, the Canada Sickness Recovery Benefit (CRSB) is provided to individuals who have been unable to work due to COVID-19. That inability to work can arise because the person had COVID-19, was advised to self-isolate, or had an underlying health condition that put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

The CRSB provides such individuals with a flat amount of $500 per week, for a week in which the individual was unable to work at least 50% of their normal work week. The benefit amount of $500 per week does not depend in any way on the amount of income the individual normally earns; however, in order to qualify, the individual must have earned at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months, or during 2019, 2020, or 2021.

The CRSB is payable for a maximum of six weeks, such that the maximum benefit receivable is $3,000.

Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit

Millions of Canadians, while not ill themselves, lost income during the pandemic because they were needed to stay at home to care for children or other family members who required supervised care.

The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) provides income support to such individuals who were employed or self-employed. In order to qualify for the CRCB, individuals must have been unable to work because they were at home caring for their child who was under age 12 or another family member who needed such supervised care. Such at-home care must have been required because the school, regular program, or facility attended by the individual requiring care was closed or unavailable due to the pandemic, or because the person requiring care was sick, self-isolating, or at risk of serious health complications due to COVID-19. In addition, the applicant for the CRCB must have been unable to work at least 50% of their normal work week and he or she must have earned at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months, or during 2019, 2020, or 2021.

Like the CRSB, the CRCB pays eligible individuals a flat amount of $500 per week. Unlike the CRSB, however, the CRCB program will provide a weekly benefit to eligible individuals for a period of up to 44 weeks.

Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit

The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB) differs in a number of ways from the CRSB and the CRCB. The latter two benefits are available in all provinces and territories, with eligibility for such benefits based entirely on personal circumstances. In the case of the CWLB, however, eligibility depends, in the first instance, on the public health situation in an individual’s province of residence (or sometimes, on their location within a province or territory) at any given time.

The reason for the difference is that the CWLB is intended to help compensate individuals who have lost income due to public health orders issued in response to current pandemic conditions, and currently in force in their particular place of residence and work. Such orders can, of course, vary widely from place to place.

In order to be eligible for the CWLB, an individual must have earned at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months or in either 2020 or 2021. In addition, an applicant must have filed a tax return for the 2020 tax year and must also commit to filing his or her returns for 2021 and 2022 by the end of 2023. Additional eligibility conditions may also apply, and a list of those conditions can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/worker-lockdown-benefit/cwlb-who-apply.html.

The CWLB is $300 per week and there is no limit to the number of weeks during which benefits can be received. However, such benefits are only available during time periods when the area or province or territory in which an individual lives is designated as a COVID-19 lockdown region. In addition, such lockdown must have resulted in an individual losing his or her job, or experiencing a 50% reduction in average weekly income, as compared to the previous year.

COVID-19 lockdown regions are designated by the federal government, and a comprehensive listing of the dates during which each province and territory of Canada qualified as a COVID-19 lockdown region can be searched by postal code, on the federal government website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/worker-lockdown-benefit/cwlb-regional-lockdowns.html.

Making the application – critical dates and deadlines

It’s critical to remember that an application for benefits under the CRSB, CRCB, or the CWLB programs can be made up to 60 days after the end of a benefit week/period. Consequently, as of April 26, benefit applications still be made for any benefit period starting after February 19, 2022.

That 60-day application period is particularly important when it comes to the CWLB. As of April 26, there are no regions of Canada which are currently designated as COVID-19 lockdown regions. However, with the exception of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick, and some areas of Québec and the Northwest Territories, all other provinces and territories were subject to such designation within the last 60 days, meaning that eligible applicants can still apply for CWLB benefits for those time periods. A listing of the COVID-19 lockdown designation periods for each province and territory (or locations within a province or territory) can be found on the federal government website at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/designated-covid-19-lockdown-regions.html.

The other critical date to be aware of is May 7, 2022: as of that date (under existing legislation), each of the CRSB, CRCB, or CWLB programs will come to an end. Notwithstanding, the 60-day rule for applications will continue, meaning that applications for benefits can still made, as long as the usual eligibility criteria are met and no more than 60 days has passed since the end of the particular benefit period for which the application is being made.

While the number and variety of benefit programs and varying eligibility and application criteria can be confusing, the federal government has provided a comprehensive summary on its website of the rules governing these programs. That summary is available at https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html#individuals.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.