COVID-19: A third of unemployed Canadians will receive nothing from either EI or new CERB

Analysis shows 862,000 will fall through cracks in income support programs without rapid reforms
April 2, 2020

OTTAWA – As new federal policies are created and adapted to attempt to counter the worst-case economic impacts of COVID-19, new analysis today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) shows 862,000 unemployed workers will receive nothing from either Employment Insurance (EI) or the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

“A full one third of unemployed workers will fall through the cracks and receive no income support, unless changes are made quickly to ensure no one is left behind during this crisis,” says David Macdonald, CCPA senior economist and author of the new analysis.

Approximately 1.2 million Canadians were unemployed before COVID-19 started to significantly impact the Canadian economy, and they were joined by another 1.5 million in the initial round of COVD-19 layoffs. Of those who lost their jobs before COVID-19, 604,000 are not eligible for EI but also can’t get the CERB, because their employment didn’t cease due to the virus.

“If you were unemployed before COVID-19 hit, you get nothing from CERB, even though the prospects of finding work right now are virtually non-existent,” adds Macdonald. “Canada’s unemployed workers are sacrificing their pay in order to stop the spread of the virus. We need to recognize that and give them the support they need to survive on the economic front lines.”

A further 14% of unemployed people (390,000) are receiving some support from EI, but less than the $500 a week others will get under CERB, the CCPA analysis shows. Social assistance recipients who work under normal circumstances could also be forced to pay 100% of the CERB back in provincial clawbacks. 

Macdonald also notes that, based on comparable EI numbers, it is safe to assume that 3% or 47,000 laid off workers won’t receive the CERB even though they’d likely qualify, because they don’t know about the program given its rapid deployment. Another 175,000 workers won’t receive CERB despite being laid off after the virus hit because they didn’t make the required minimum earnings of $5,000 in 2019.

Recommendations for addressing current gaps in EI/CERB income support programs include: extending access to CERB to all unemployed persons, even if they lost their job before the onset of COVID-19; eliminating the $5,000 annual earnings requirement for eligibility; and topping up all present EI recipients to the CERB flat rate of $500 weekly if their present EI benefits fall below that level.

The federal government should also coordinate with the provinces and territories to ensure the CERB isn’t clawed back dollar-for-dollar from social assistance going to some of the most vulnerable workers. 

The full analysis will be available Thursday at


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The CCPA is an independent, non-profit charitable research institute founded in 1980.