Updated May 8, 2020
Many Canadians breathed a sigh of relief in late March when the federal government announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (the “CERB”) to provide financial assistance to those who had lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CERB provides $2,000 per month, up to four months, to workers who have stopped working completely or are earning less than $1,000 in income for fourteen or more consecutive days because of reasons related to COVID-19.
The CERB, however, has been a source of much confusion to the more than 960,000 people in Ontario who rely on social assistance and the 75,000 of whom report earned income. At first glance, it seemed as though the CERB would be deducted dollar-for-dollar from Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”) benefits and Ontario Works (“OW”) income support payments, in the same manner as Employment Insurance (“EI”).
In response, the federal government advised provinces and territories not to claw back on the CERB from those on social assistance to “ensure that vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind.” At that time, the government of British Columbia had already temporarily exempted both EI and the CERB from affecting income or disability assistance. The government of Ontario said it was committed to reviewing the CERB and would consider its impact on those receiving social assistance.
On April 20, the Ontario government released its much-anticipated decision, stating that the CERB would be treated as earned income and qualify for a partial exemption for ODSP and OW recipients. For existing ODSP and OW recipients, the first $200 of the CERB payment, and 50 per cent of each additional dollar received in a month, will be exempt as income. This means that Ontarians on social assistance who receive CERB payments amounting to $2,000 per month will be allowed to keep up to $1,100 on top of their monthly ODSP and OW benefits. (ODSP and OW will claw back the remaining $900.)
Of critical importance, even if income thresholds are exceeded, ODSP and OW recipients will not lose access to health benefits. If recipients qualify for the CERB partial exemption, but become financially ineligible for social assistance, they will remain on social assistance at a nominal amount to ensure access to benefits and supports.
Note that for new OW applicants (granted on or after March 1st, 2020), the CERB payment will be deducted dollar-for-dollar when determining eligibility for social assistance.
The Ontario government claims that the claw back, worth collectively around $30 million per month, will be immediately invested into programs to help others on OW and ODSP who are not eligible for federal assistance.
Current recipients of ODSP and OW may also access emergency benefits for COVID-19 related expenses by contacting their caseworker. Emergency benefits include up to $100 for single individuals and $200 for families.
PooranLaw will continue to monitor legal developments related to social assistance. In the meantime, if you require legal assistance, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.
 Marielle Hossack, spokesperson for Minister Carla Qualtrough, April 13, 2020.
Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.