Menzies says she went through eight months of intermittent unemployment after her earnings as a restaurant manager and waiter fell to 10% of her regular salary at the start of the pandemic. All the while, it was only thanks to the Canada Emergency Benefit (CEP) and then the enhanced Employment Insurance (EI) that she was able to keep a roof over her head and food. in the cupboards, she said.
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But while Menzies has now returned to her full-time hours since early summer with the restaurant teeming with patrons, she worries about what the future holds.
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“I’m nervous about what would happen in the fall if we got another spike (of the virus),” she says.
If a fourth wave of COVID-19 resulted in further restrictions or once again driving customers away, Menzies wonders how she would manage to make ends meet without an increased government check.
The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRP) and many of the temporary EI changes that are currently in place will expire in September. At the same time, however, COVID-19 cases have increased in Alberta, lifting most public health restrictions.
The province on Thursday ended asymptomatic testing and contact tracing for those who have come in contact with people who test positive for COVID-19. The province also lifted self-isolation requirements for those who may have been exposed to the virus.
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Menzies isn’t the only one worried about another tough fall. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos exclusively for Global News found that 81% of those polled said they feared the spread of new variants would delay the return to normal. Sixty-nine percent also said they were concerned about the potential for a fourth wave.
For Menzies and other low-wage frontline workers like her, the question is what will happen if a new wave of COVID-19 once again dries up business – this time without a reinforced safety net.
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For Canadians who may once again become unable to work in a new pandemic wave, the stakes are high, says David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.
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With the Canada Stimulus Benefit (CRP), which succeeded the PCU, due to expire in late September, most self-employed workers would be “completely cut off from all support,” Macdonald said.
Payments have also been reduced from $ 500 to $ 300 pre-tax per week for new claimants and anyone who has already received benefits for 42 weeks.
And many of those like Menzies who might qualify for EI would have a lower benefit level, Macdonald adds. While the current and strengthened version of EI provides $ 500 per week before tax, the average benefit is typically around $ 300 per week, he adds.
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There is also the question of whether workers who return to their job in the summer and lose it again in the fall would be able to accumulate enough insurable hours to have access to employment insurance again. .
Until fall 2022, Ottawa set the requirement to claim EI at 420 uniform hours across the country, with unemployed workers guaranteed a minimum of 14 weeks of benefits. The bar is significantly lower than it was before the pandemic, when Canadians often had to accumulate more than 900 hours in order to receive unemployment benefits, according to Macdonald.
But 420 hours is still considerably more than the 120 hours it currently takes to qualify for EI under the rules that will be in place until September, Macdonald notes.
Someone who returned to work in early June and keeps full-time hours until fall might be able to rack up 420 hours, he says. Part-time workers and those who are called back to their jobs later in the summer would not meet expectations, he adds.
Federal budget legislation allows the government to extend both the CRB and current EI enhancements until November 20 without having to take the matter to Parliament. An impending national election, however, could complicate matters.
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Speculation is rife that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will soon end the minority government he has led since October 2019 and force Canadians to return to the polls.
Citing sources, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Trudeau was considering an election in September.
“If we see cases start to increase, government supports are likely to shift or be adjusted,” said Ted Mallett, director of economic forecasting at the Conference Board of Canada.
But, he adds, “it may well be that the decision is either to extend the benefits or to move the elections forward.”
A spokesperson for the employment minister’s office said the government “will continue to monitor the situation.”
“We have had Canadians’ backs since the start of the pandemic and we will continue to be there for them,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
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Macdonald and Mallett note that another wave of cases could hit companies with contact with customers and their employees, even without another round of government restrictions.
“You can’t force people to go to restaurants. You can’t force people out, ”Macdonald says. “And so if there is a general fear of catching COVID-19, of going to the hospital, there will certainly likely be a psychological impact and therefore a financial impact for these frontline businesses. “
If the mess rooms empty again, Menzies says she won’t be able to pay the bills on her own or with a lower EI benefit. While COVID-19 income supports allowed her to set aside some money to pay income taxes and a small refund she owed, it was not enough to build a fund for emergency.
The PKU and enhanced EI benefits were like “security coverage,” she said. “It was amazing for my kids… And having that taken away when we’re not over (the pandemic), it definitely puts me back in that state of anxiety. “
– wwith a file from Amanda Connolly from Global News
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