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'I'm wondering how I'm going to afford food': CERB clawback shocks Vancouver worker on medical leave

Last Updated Jun 29, 2020 at 6:48 am MDT

FILE -- The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop in Toronto on April 4, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS, JONATHAN HAYWARD)

Fred is receiving $500 per week instead of the $573 he would be getting in EI sickness benefits

He is one of many Canadians being informed of a June clawback due to an advance payment in April

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Fred doesn’t know how he’s going to pay for groceries for the next two weeks.

Like a number of Canadians, he was shocked to learn that his next CERB payment will be zero dollars.

“I’m wondering how I’m going to afford food for the next two weeks. You know Vancouver’s an expensive city, a thousand bucks doesn’t really get you too far and now I’ve literally got like 50 bucks in my bank account,” he says.

Fred, who doesn’t want his last name used, was not laid off due to the pandemic but he’s been collecting the COVID-19-related benefit instead of the medical EI he applied for in late March.

He’s been receiving $500 per week instead of the $573 he would be getting in EI sickness benefits.

“I feel kind of cheated, not only because I’m being paid less than what I should be getting paid. I feel cheated because I didn’t apply for the CERB and now I have to deal with this for two weeks,” he says.

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Fred has been off work since having ankle surgery in late January, and transitioned from short-term disability insurance to EI on March 24.

“I’m fortunate in the sense that I was able to get surgery before all the COVID stuff happened, but I’m feeling the effects,” he adds.

Fred is further frustrated because he’s been paying the maximum contribution to EI for a decade, and his injury is the only thing affecting his ability to work.

“I work for the railroads so I’d be working right now if it wasn’t for my foot,” he says.

“I’m an essential service worker. If I was able to go to work I’d be working right now, my job hasn’t been affected by COVID.”

After submitting his bi-weekly report, he found out Friday that he won’t be paid for the period from June 14 – 28.

“There was nothing on the application saying I was getting an advance. I’m just very confused and I feel very cheated and I’m angry because now I have no money for the next two weeks. I used that money to pay off some debt because I’d blew up all my savings. If I’d known that was an advance I never would have used it,” he says.

“I’m just concerned that there’s more people that don’t know about this because I certainly didn’t,” Fred says, adding he thinks this  information should have been clearly communicated to all Canadians when the eight-week extension of CERB was announced.

An email sent from Service Canada explains that payments to people in situations like Fred’s will resume after this one-time clawback.

“When you first applied for the CERB, you received two payments: a payment of $2,000 as well as a payment following your initial report. This $2,000 was an advance of four weeks of the CERB, which was issued in order to get money in your pocket as quickly as possible,” it reads.

“Because of this advance, you will not receive a payment when you complete your next report. This is equivalent to the first two-week period of the advance.”

RELATED: CERB extended eight weeks, PM announces

A spokesperson clarified that payments started being affected in early June.

“Because of this advance, starting the week of June 8, claimants who have received their full $8,000 initial CERB entitlement and will not receive their regular CERB payment, ” it reads.

“Claimants will receive money again at the beginning of July in support of the extension of the CERB by an additional 8 weeks, provided they continue to meet the eligibility criteria.”