Dan Albas

COLUMN: Questions remain about benefit packages

Students confused and frustrated as they try to determine if they qualify

This week, not unlike last week, and the week before, the government has announced another “Emergency Assistance” program.

This latest program is the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and is intended to provide supports for those students who do not qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

The formal details of this new program have not yet been released, and will require legislation, however the general guidelines of the program are as follows:

Eligibility for this CESB program is said to apply to “post-secondary (college and university) students who are currently in school, are planning to start school in September 2020, or graduated from school in December 2019, if they have lost work or cannot find work due to the pandemic.”

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It is also open to working students “earning less than $1,000 per month who also able to apply for the benefit if their hours have been cut due to COVID-19.”

This benefit will provide monthly support payments of $1,250 from May 1 until August of 2020.

This amount can be increased to $1,750 monthly for those students who are caring for someone with a disability.

There will also be other measures ranging from increased student grants and financial assistance to enhanced scholarships and other initiatives.

As this program will require an in person sitting of parliament to be implemented, the exact details will become further defined.

In my view this new program will definitely be of benefit for many students who clearly did not qualify for the CERB program and had fallen through the cracks.

The reason why I referenced “clearly” in the context of not qualifying for the CERB program is for good reason.

Some students have expressed both confusion and even frustration trying to determine if they are eligible for the CERB benefit or not.

The confusion is related to recent comments the Prime Minister made in the House of Commons in Question Period stating that “students who had a job last summer or who worked during the school year are eligible for the CERB if they earned over $5,000. Many students are eligible.”

In fact, the actual legislation has additional requirements including, that aside from earning over $5,000, the benefit questions and answers specifically states “If you are a student who had a job last year and were planning on working this summer you do not qualify for the benefit.”

As the opposition, we continue to push the Liberal government for clarification on this as many students, based on hearing the Prime Minister’s comments, applied for the CERB benefit in good faith.

Unfortunately, as the Liberal government, Bloc Quebecois, NDP and Green Party all voted to have only one question period per week, there are fewer opportunities to raise important issues like this one in parliament.

At this point in time a virtual Parliament has been reported by the non partisan Clerk of the House of Commons as not feasible at this time.

By comparison the British parliament will sit with reduced numbers for three days a week, along with virtual option for those not in person.

My question this week relates to the House of Commons: Do you support the decision for the House to sit with reduced numbers only one day per week?

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola. This riding includes the communities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton, Merritt and Logan Lake.

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