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CERB 2.0? Trudeau Hints at New Benefit for Gig Workers

Image credit: Photo by CIRA/.CA.

The CERB may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean out-of-work Canadians can’t still get benefits.

That’s the takeaway from a recent statement by PM Justin Trudeau, who announced that his government had been working on a “21st century EI system.” In covering Trudeau’s statement, the Canadian Press reported that the revamped EI system would replace the CERB, bringing more Canadians under coverage — including one group of Canadians who had been sorely neglected until the CERB came into effect.

An “EI-like benefit” for gig workers

One of the main beneficiaries of Trudeau’s “transitional EI-like benefit” would be gig workers. Under current rules, gig workers are considered self-employed. That means that they’re opted out of EI by default. Gig workers can indicate that they want to pay in to EI, but usually don’t. The self-employed pay twice the usual rate on CPP; passing on EI premiums is a way to partially offset that extra tax. As a result, many self-employed Canadians aren’t covered by EI.

Trudeau’s new EI benefit could remedy that. While details on the plan are scarce so far, it appears that there will be an interim benefit to cover non-EI eligible Canadians, followed by a totally revamped EI system. It’s hard to predict exactly what the latter will consist of, but the former will probably be regular EI with looser eligibility requirements.

Why this is good news

While many out-of-work Canadians may bemoan the loss of the $2,000 a month benefit, it may ultimately be a good thing. The CERB has always been beset by concerns about eligibility and fraud. Many Canadians have reported being “scared” to spend their CERB money, and ominous CRA statements probably haven’t helped with that.

Getting back to EI could therefore be a welcome development. While the average monthly amount isn’t as high as the CERB, EI has fewer eligibility questions hanging over it. As a result, individuals receiving EI may feel more free to spend it.

For example, if you received $1,000 a month in EI, you could spend that money on investments. If you took $1,000 worth of EI and spent it on shares in Fortis, you’d be within your rights to do so. After all, it’s a program you paid in to, and if you’ve been laid off, you’re eligible to benefit from it. It doesn’t matter how you spend the money.

With the CERB, it’s not quite so simple. There’s been a big question mark about eligibility ever since the program began, and spending CERB money on non-essential items has been frowned upon. If you took $1,000 worth of CERB money and bought FTS shares with it, that wouldn’t make you ineligible. However, it could be inconvenient if the shares declined in value, and you were later forced to repay the CERB. With EI, you always know that you’re entitled to the money you’re getting, as applications are pre-screened for eligibility. As a result, you can sleep soundly no matter how you spend the money — be it on groceries, Fortis shares, or anything in between.

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Fool contributor Andrew Button has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends FORTIS INC.

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