USW Guide to Federal Support Programs

Clarifying the Confusing World of New Government Programs

USW guide to federal programsDownload the PDF

(As of May 4, 2020)

If you are like the rest of us, you’re likely confused by daily announcements and changes to job supports during this pandemic. This is because things have not been finalized nor fully explained yet. We realize this can be frustrating and make it hard for you to receive important supports you and your family need.

To help, below we outline as clearly as possible: who is eligible, what each covers and how you apply for each. 

This information is up-to-date as of May 4, 2020.

As of June 16, 2020, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has been extended by eight weeks. The benefit will now be available for a total of up to 24 weeks. Click here for more details.

Regular (basic) Employment Insurance (EI) becoming Emergency EI Benefit

Applications for regular (basic) EI benefits or EI sickness benefits that were established before March 15 will continue as before.

All EI claims established after March 15 will be treated as an Emergency EI Benefit or Canada Emergency Response Benefit claim.

The CERB and Emergency EI Benefit are somewhat more accessible and provide a higher benefit than regular (basic) EI benefits for most applicants (see comparison below). Note that if you would have been eligible for an EI benefit that is higher than the CERB/EI Emergency Benefit, you will not receive the higher amount. However, you will maintain your EI eligibility at the rate you would have received after your CERB/EI Emergency Benefit has been exhausted, if you are still in need of it.

Note that maternity, parental and compassionate care benefits are not affected by the March 15 changes.

You now apply online and find additional information at (in “Financial and economic support” section).

Six of one, half a dozen of the other:
Emergency EI Benefit and Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)

The Emergency EI Benefit and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are similar in most ways. 

You can apply for either program from a single online portal ( which will stream you into the right program.

The slight differences can be found in the chart below.

NOTE: unfortunately there are currently limitations to both programs:

USW and others in the labour movement are fighting these limitations. Get updates on our progress at

You apply for both programs online at

The Minor Differences Between Emergency EI Benefit and CERB


Eligibility (Same)

  • Stopped working because of COVID-19
  • Laid off or reduced hours. No voluntary separation (quitting)
  • Sick, quarantined or in self-isolation
  • Caring for someone with COVID-19; home because of school/childcare closure
  • Must have earned at least $5,000 of insurable earnings in 2019 or previous 12 months. Includes maternity/parental EI benefits
  • For April eligibility, you must have stopped or will stop working for 14 consecutive days and expect to receive no more than $1,000 in combined income for these days. 
  • For May and beyond: no more than $1,000 over four weeks
  • Must be Canadian resident
  • No job search requirement
  • Pension income, scholarships and provincial transfers permitted
  • No SUB plans? (rules on SUB plans remains murky; nothing officially allows or disallows them)
  • Workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020 and are unable to find a job or return to work because of COVID-19

Seasonal workers who exhausted their EI regular benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020 and are unable to undertake their regular seasonal work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak 

 EI and CERB

Other Income (Same)

  • Less than $1,000 per month
  • No employer supplemental plans (top-ups): rules remain murky
  • EI and CERB cannot be combined

Pension income, scholarships or provincial transfers permitted 


Benefit (Different)

  • $500 a week regardless of previous income (total $2,000/month)

Paid bi-weekly


Benefit (Different)

  • $2,000/month

Paid monthly 


Duration (Different)

  • Up to 16 weeks
  • At the expire of the 16-week period, if you are eligible for EI regular (basic) benefits, you can begin a new claim without a reduction in entitlement period


Duration (Different)

  • Originally, up to 16 weeks. As of June 16, 2020, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has been extended by eight weeks. The benefit will now be available for a total of up to 24 weeks. Click here for more details.


 EI and CERB

Application Process (Same)

You apply for either program from a single online portal ( which will stream you into the right program.

Apply at 


Administration (Different)

  • Administered by Service Canada

Will need to regularly attest that you are without income and do not expect income during the benefit period (bi-weekly)


Administration (Different)

  • Administered by CRA

Will need to regularly attest that you are without income and do not expect income during the benefit period (monthly)


Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)

In an attempt to avoid layoffs and to return laid-off employees to work, the federal government has implemented a wage subsidy to employers hit hard by COVID-19.

Generally speaking, it is a 75% subsidy paid to employers that have a 30% reduction in revenue. (Details announced to date are described below.) For the month of March only, the revenue loss threshold is only 15% rather than 30%.

There will be a time lag before this program is operationalized, both to get it up-and-running and to get it passed by Parliament.

The 75% wage subsidy is a program created in addition to the still existing but insufficient 10% subsidy announced earlier (details below.)

Your employer needs to apply to the CRA for this subsidy.

Eligible Employers Period of Benefit Subsidy

Employers of all sizes and all sectors, except public sector

  • Excludes municipalities, local governments, Crown corporations, public
    universities, colleges, schools and hospitals
  • Includes: individuals, taxable corporations, partnerships, non-profit organizations and registered charities

Must demonstrate 30% decline in revenue (15% for the month of March only) in each claiming period

  • Determined by monthly revenues, on a year-over-year basis
  • Must be eligible/apply for each claiming period

Claiming Period

  1. March 15-April 11
  2. April 12-May 9
  3. May 10-June 6


  1. March 2020
    over March 2019
  2. April 2020-April 2019
  3. May 2020-May 2019
  • 75% of first $58,700 remuneration paid, to max of $847/week; or 75% of pre-crisis weekly remuneration
  • No per employer maximum limit
  • Also applicable to new employees
  • Remuneration includes salary,
    wages and other remuneration. Does not include severance
    pay, stock options, use of corporate vehicle
  • Definition of pre-crisis weekly remuneration
    to follow
  • Definition of revenue tbd with regards to NFP and charities
  • Employer not eligible to claim CEWS for an employee in a week that falls within 4-week period for which employee is eligible for CERB
  • Non-eligible employers able to furlough employees on CERB

Click here for more detailed information on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

Temporary Small Business Wage Subsidy

The Temporary Small Business Wage Subsidy is the inadequate subsidy program announced earlier by the Liberal government, before the 75% wage subsidy program (CEWS) was announced.

It provides a 10% subsidy to small and medium businesses of salaries from March 18 to June 19, via deduction from payroll remittances.

It excludes trusts, partnerships, non-profits, registered charities and Canadian-controlled private corporations.

Those employers not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy can apply for this subsidy if they are eligible.

Employment Insurance Work-Sharing Program Extended

While not a new program, the Work-Sharing Program has been extended from 38 to 76 weeks.

The mandatory cooling off period is waived for employers who previously used the Work-Sharing Program.

Work-Sharing is an Employment Insurance program that helps employers and employees avoid layoffs. The program allows employers to retain skilled employees when there is a temporary decrease in business activity beyond the control of the employer.

Click here for more detailed information on the Employment Insurance Work-Sharing Program.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB)



Note that international students are not eligible for the CESB at this time. If a student worked throughout the school year and cannot work as a result of COVID-19, they may be eligible for the CERB/EI Emergency Benefit provided they meet all eligibility requirements.

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