The Potential Troubles of EIA, CERB, & COVID-19 in Manitoba

Manitoba’s income support system may leave many at risk of being worse off than they are currently & advocates are raising multiple concerns with EIA, CERB, & COVID-19

Make Poverty History Manitoba has been calling on the provincial government to provide EIA recipients with an additional $300 per month during the pandemic. In the absence of a provincial response, many people on EIA have instead been applying for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) out of desperation for additional financial support – whether they qualify or not. 

When people on EIA access other sources of income their benefits get reduced. Since the Pallister government has decided to treat the $2,000 per month CERB as income, it raises EIA recipients’ income to a level that makes them ineligible for future benefits. The provincial government is closing their files with EIA to save money rather than allowing some of the most vulnerable in our Province to receive much needed financial support.

This raises a couple of issues:

  • Many people on EIA have their rent paid directly from the EIA office to the landlord. Those who are unaware that their files are being closed won’t have their rent paid and will be at risk of homelessness. 
  • People will need to apply to re-open their files and get back on to EIA when the CERB runs out. This often requires a lengthy waiting period during which people will be living without any income and the process itself is resource consuming. 
  • The federal government will eventually require EIA recipients to pay back the CERB when it determines they were not eligible for it in the first place. For most, this money will be automatically taken out of other government benefits like future GST cheques, leaving people in more desperate circumstances than they were before.

Make Poverty History Manitoba is launching a call for the Province to keep EIA files open for those receiving CERB.

There are multiple stories already arising about how our income support systems might leave those living in poverty worse off than before COVID-19. People who have no choice but to depend on provincial Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) as their only source of income live in a state of emergency most of the time. The $800 a month received by a single person on EIA traps them well below the poverty line. It is barely enough to rent an apartment for a month, nevermind to purchase other basic needs and find the stability needed to move toward financial independence. 

As a result, many people on EIA rely on other public services and non-profit organizations for things like food, phone, and laundry services. The majority of these services have been either shut down or drastically reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the daily crises experienced by people on EIA. Like others who have been made more vulnerable by the pandemic, people on EIA also need additional financial support.

In the end, as a result of our income support systems not working well to assist people living in poverty, many of them are at risk of being worse off than they are currently. 

Make Poverty History Manitoba is calling on:

  1. The Province of Manitoba to keep EIA files open for those who receive CERB during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  2. For those on EIA who do not qualify for CERB, the Province should increase the EIA budget by $300 per person, per month for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  3. The Government of Canada to forgive provincial EIA recipients from the requirement to pay back the CERB if they do not qualify.

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