The federal government has introduced legislation that further closes a loophole that was letting Canadians claim benefit payments while quarantining after travelling abroad.
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough introduced Bill C-24 on Thursday (Feb. 25) to increase the maximum number of weeks available to workers through EI regular benefits.
The legislation would provide workers with up to a maximum of 50 weeks for claims that are established between September 27, 2020 and Sept. 25, 2021.
In addition, self-employed workers who use the EI program to access special benefits could use a 2020 earnings threshold of $5,000, compared to the previous threshold of $7,555.
This change would be retroactive to claims established as of January 3, 2021 and would apply until Sept. 25, 2021.
But as part of this legislation, all international travellers who need to quarantine or isolate upon their return to Canada, including people returning from vacation, would be made ineligible to receive support from any of the Canada Recovery Benefits for the period of their mandatory quarantine or isolation.
These changes would be retroactive to Oct. 2, 2020.
“…at a time when so many Canadians are making sacrifices, it is so important that our supports go to those who really need it,” Minister Qualtrough said in a statement. “That is why we are tightening the eligibility criteria for our COVID-19 recovery benefits and ensuring that these important measures have no unintended consequences.”
Ottawa under fire
In January, the Liberal government came under fire after it was revealed that some people were taking advantage of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) after holidaying at a time when Ottawa was (and still is) strongly advising against all non-essential travel.
For a period of time, Canadians taking holidays or travelling for non-essential reasons were able to collect up to $1,000 in sick pay while in self-isolation after returning home.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) updated the application process for Canada’s recovery benefits on Jan. 11.
But some are exempt from the rules – those who would normally be exempt from mandatory quarantine requirements under the Quarantine Act, such as health care workers who need to cross the border for work, would still be eligible to apply following their return to the country.
An exemption would also apply to those who travel to receive a necessary medical treatment or to accompany someone who is travelling for such treatment and requires assistance.
Addressing media on Jan. 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clarified that benefits are "not intended for travellers who are quarantining when they return from holiday."
"It's not there to pay for someone's post-vacation quarantine," Trudeau told reporters at the time.
The CRA is continuing to hold the processing of claims for individuals who are self-isolating or in quarantine because of international travel until the legislative process is complete to ensure those who receive the benefit meet the latest eligibility criteria.
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