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Pattie Lovett-Reid

Chief Financial Commentator, CTV


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Collect government benefits or go back to work? 

This is very much a discussion happening in some households right now. Once the pandemic hit, Canadians were losing their jobs at a rapid pace and in unprecedented levels. The government response by way of Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has been a financial lifeline for so many.

The CERB will be paid every four weeks and will be available until October 3, 2020. We are only at the beginning of June so there is still a way to go.

Even with parts of the economy reopening, the ideal job may not present itself right away, or your old job may not pay as much as the government benefit you’re receiving. As a result, some small business owners needing their employees to come back are having a difficult time recruiting them back in to the workforce.

With all the government aid available, there isn't incentive for everyone to go back now, depending on the level of income they earn. Some may be banking on the fact their jobs will be there once the benefits run out. Or at the very least, be able to find a job elsewhere. Either way this is troubling. 

Some people on CERB may not want to go back to work because they’re getting free money, but they may also be telling their employers they don’t feel safe coming back. Some may be using it as an excuse, and some may be truly scared.​ Either way, it might be in your best interest to show up to work and provide your employer with a sound reason you feel unsafe doing your job. Contact your union for guidelines if that applies. Give your employer the opportunity to make you feel safe in your work environment.

​So the question remains: should you go back to work or continue to collect the government benefit? 

The rules state that you can earn up to $1,000 and still be eligible for CERB. Sadly, some are treating this as a bargaining chip with their employers. The $1,000-threshold was put into place to protect those struggling to find some work, but not paid enough to get by.

The prime minister's goal was to get the government aid in the hands of those who needed it as quickly as possible while acknowledging that there could be payments made to those who don’t need the aid. That would be dealt with at a later time. Well it appears that time is nearing.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is taking this seriously and while it has had a National Leads Programs in place, commonly referred to as a snitch program, it has been updated is now accepting information on potential misuse government aid programs such as the CERB, Canada Emergency Benefit (CESB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) programs. The Leads program collects data where it is suspected tax cheating may be taking place such as not declaring all your income, accepting aid you aren't entitled to or misusing the wage subsidy program. 

Employees beware: If your employer calls you back and you think maybe it is more lucrative to collect the benefit, or the environment doesn't make you feel safe, simply not showing up isn't an option. Your refusal may be deemed a resignation and that in turn could disqualify you for the benefit entirely. 

Having a job that will pay the bills long after the government aid is available has to be the preferable course of action for you and the economy. ​