Medicine Hat News

Feds scrap plan to demand some CERB recipients repay


OTTAWA Some of the thousands of Canadians told they’d have to repay federal emergency COVID-19 benefits will get to keep the money after all.

Self-employed Canadians who’d applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit based on their gross income, instead of their net, won’t have to cut cheques, the government announced Tuesday, an about-face after it had previously said no one was getting any slack.

But whether others being asked to repay could also receive amnesty remained up in the air as the government said the tweak announced Tuesday was meant to address a specific problem.

“We are dealing here with a subset of the nine million Canadians who applied for CERB who legitimate­ly and honestly relied on misinforma­tion we provided,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Tuesday.

“And that’s the problem we’re solving here today.”

Self-employed Canadians who’d applied for the benefit last year were left confused by instructio­ns from Canada Revenue Agency about how to calculate whether they qualified for the benefit: did the $5,000 in income they had to earn to qualify mean income before or after allowable deductions?

The government gave conflictin­g answers in the early days of the CERB roll out, and though the ultimate answer was net income, the money after deductions, some had applied using gross income.

In turn, they found themselves among about 441,000 Canadians who got letters last year warning their eligibilit­y for CERB was in doubt and they might have to repay.

How many people the program tweak will affect, or how much it will cost, remains unclear.

Qualtrough said Tuesday that of the 441,000 people who received letters, many have now filed their taxes, their eligibilit­y for CERB has been confirmed and they won’t have to repay.

The decision for a targeted amnesty comes after Qualtrough repeatedly said last year that those caught up in the communicat­ion snafu wouldn’t be given a break.

“There’s not a conversati­on happening right now where we would forgive people, where we would not require people who were not eligible to pay it back. No,” she told the CBC in December, a sentiment her office repeated last month as well.

On Tuesday, Qualtrough suggested the change came after hearing from Canadians about the problem, and taking the time to craft a “balanced” solution.

“We reached a conclusion that the fairest and most reasonable way to move forward on this would be to allow people who applied using gross to not have to repay their benefits,” she said during a news conference.

Those who have already repaid amounts they thought they owed will also get that money back, she said.

There remains pressure for a broader reprieve from repayments, especially for those who lack the income to repay what they may owe and for others who might have applied in good faith for the benefits, received them, and only later found out they didn’t qualify.

Qualtrough said no one has to urgently repay, and the government is trying to work with people to relieve them of any stress potential repayments will cause. But she did not commit to any further amnesty programs.

 ?? CP FILE PHOTO ?? Minister of Employment, Workforce Developmen­t and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough holds a press conference in Ottawa on July 17, 2020.
CP FILE PHOTO Minister of Employment, Workforce Developmen­t and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough holds a press conference in Ottawa on July 17, 2020.

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