Here we are, 21 months into the pandemic, people are vaccinated (or getting boosters!), the economy has opened up somewhat (omicron pending), and we’re back at work. Millions (yes, millions) of Canadians made it through this financially because they were able to access various government benefits like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), CERB’s replacement, the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), and others.
The federal government ended CRB on October 23 and is planning to replace it with the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB), which doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as CERB or CRB. What does it actually mean for Canadians who are still using CRB and what can they do if they lose access to it?
What is the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit?
CWLB — if it is approved; it's in committee now and expected to be voted on in the House of Commons the week of Dec. 14 — would provide $300 a week to workers who couldn't work due to “government-imposed public-health lockdowns'' and offers a bit of a lifeline to Canadians if lockdowns happen due to a possible fifth wave. Approved applicants would be paid retroactively starting October 24 and ending May 7, 2022. The benefit is available for workers who are eligible for EI (providing they aren’t getting it at the same time) and for workers who are ineligible for EI, like the self-employed who don’t pay into the program. If this is passed in Parliament, people should be able to apply for CWLB as early as 24 hours later.
In the meantime, see if you qualify for other pandemic benefits
If you don’t qualify for CWLB, your first instinct might be to adjust your budget. That’s a great start and instinct, but Kyle Westhaver, a wealth advisor with Nicola Wealth in Vancouver, says that isn’t always the automatic solution. “Budgeting is great, but budgeting works if there's extra money at the end of the day,” he says, noting the structural economic issues at play in 2021: The cost of living and food have jumped between 4 and 5% this year. Rents and housing prices have also climbed while salaries remained stagnant and Canadians are facing record-levels of debt.
As a first step, Westhaver suggests tapping into other pandemic-related benefits that are still going, such as the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, which gives self-employed or employed people $500 per week (for up to 42 weeks) because they couldn’t work because they were taking care of their child under 12 or an adult who needs supervised care. Another option could be the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which also gives $500 per week to self-employed or employed people who are unable to work because they are sick or have to isolate due to COVID-19. Both of these were extended until Nov. 20 (you apply retroactively), and Parliament is in the middle of deciding whether or not these will be extended until May 2022. If they are, you can apply for CRSB online or by phone and the same goes for the CRCB.
Seek external support where possible
Toronto-based personal finance journalist and financial wellness educator Zandile Chiwanza points out that getting a credit card or a line of credit isn’t accessible to everyone due to credit scores, a lack of credit history, housing insecurity, or even just being new to Canada. Plus, credit cards often have high interest rates, which can make debt worse.
“Don’t be ashamed to ask for help,” says Chiwanza. “That can be from a loved one or a financial professional. There are also support networks that you can reach out to; non-profit debt organizations to get help if you feel like you're drowning.” One example is Credit Counselling Canada, which is the national association of not-for-profit credit counselling agencies. They can assist you in assessing your finances, get a credit consolidation loan so you only have one affordable monthly payment, and help with those dreaded calls from collection agencies. Anyone can reach out for help and won’t be turned away if they can’t afford to pay.
Let your lenders know asap
If you have a mortgage, a car loan, or any loan, let your lenders know as soon as you can. Some may have programs such as buybacks (which means the buying back of goods) or a one-month payment deferral offers. (Nothing like the deferred programs from 2020, but every bit helps.) Even if they don’t, let them know instead of missing payments, because they’ll mark you as defaulting on the payments and that could affect your credit score. It’s a tough conversation to have but pick up the phone and see if you can negotiate a temporary reduction in the minimum payment if you keep making the monthly payments.
Be kind to yourself
Chiwanza says the first thing is to acknowledge the situation and recognize that, despite our best attempts, we can’t really control a lot of what’s going on. No one asked for a pandemic that would affect our jobs, our mental health, and our lives. “Some people might not even be in the position to really get back to work as they did before... It's judging to think that people are ready, so I think the first thing is that people need to know that they're not alone.”
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.