The pandemic isn’t over, but key supports are about to end

More than 1.5 million workers could be affected by the wind down of pandemic supports

October 21, 2021

7-minute read

Fast facts:

  • Three federal pandemic support programs are ending Saturday, October 23: two for businesses and one for workers
    • Partial replacements are planned for the business programs;

  • 641,000 employed workers’ jobs may in jeopardy when the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) business programs end
    • Although those workers will be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI), it no longer has a $500-a-week floor

    • These businesses may benefit from the newly announced Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program or the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program;

  • Almost 900,000 workers will lose support with the end of the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB);

  • 68,000 workers will retain support from the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit whose extension was just announced;

  • A long term support program for the self-employed won’t be ready for another year;

  • In total, over a million-and-a-half workers could be affected, most of whom won’t have another source of support.

Introduction

Following a last-minute extension last summer, five major pandemic support programs—two for businesses and three for workers—were scheduled to expire on Saturday, October 23.

For businesses, the programs scheduled to end are the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). These programs are to be replaced with the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program. These are more focused versions of the previous ones.

For workers, the three programs on the chopping block were the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) for the self-employed, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) for those who are sick or quarantining with COVID-19, and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRSB) for those who are caring for someone who has or may have COVID-19 or whose children may be home from school. The CRSB and CRCB were given a last minute reprieve. The CRB, though, will be shuttered in favour of a much more focused Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit that is only accessible in times of provincial or municipal lockdown and not due to job loss caused by the pandemic in general. 

Given that the pandemic and its impacts on the labour market are far from over, it’s worth examining who will lose benefits as of Saturday.

The Canada Revenue Agency, which administers the programs, has regularly updated the count of successful applications (CRB, CRCB, CRSB, CERS, CEWS). But since applications can be made retroactively, the raw number underestimates the full count of those who will eventually receive benefits. As a result, more recent counts are constantly changing as jobless workers, but more commonly businesses, retroactively apply for support. Also, there are clear uptake trends that should be taken into account.

This analysis attempts to both adjust for delayed program applications and estimate trends in order to paint a more accurate picture of how many people and businesses will lose support when these programs end.

When it comes to the CERS and CEWS programs, there has been a large drop in businesses accessing them in the most recent data (ending September 25). It’s worth remembering that both programs had substantial cuts that kicked in during that period and will apply to the final period of September 26 to October 23.

The number of businesses accessing CEWS support declined from 170,000 at the end of July to 59,000 at the end of September. If those trends hold, there will likely be 40,000 businesses that might qualify for continued support but won’t receive it after the program ends on October 23. The wage subsidy is related to payroll, so it is possible to calculate that 690,000 workers’ jobs may be at risk.

Those workers aren’t automatically going to lose their job when the CEWS ends, although it is a possibility. Some, or all, might still be retained. The closure of the CEWS program might push companies to apply for the substantial federal and provincial rehiring programs that have been active for months.

Even if those workers do lose their job, they will almost certainly be eligible for EI. CEWS support was based on Canadian payroll and so those workers would be paying into EI and qualify for it. However, the EI program has also been scaled back recently. During much of the pandemic, workers would receive at least $500 a week from EI. That fell to $300 a week as of last month.

Throughout the pandemic, the CERS program has supported fewer businesses than the CEWS program. However, this changed in recent months. The number of businesses relying on CERS declined from 140,000 at the end of August to 75,000 at the end of September. If those trends continued in October, it’s likely that only 50,000 businesses will be cut off when the program ends this weekend. CERS is not directly related to payroll—it’s connected to rent—so it is unclear how many jobs will be at risk.

Businesses can receive both CERS and CEWS, so it’s not clear how much overlap there is, although its likely to be substantial. Between 40,000 and 50,000 businesses are likely to lose support from either program. At this point, business uptake is 13% of what it was at the peak of pandemic support, in the fall of 2020.

The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program are the proposed replacements. As of the most recent data, 27% of CERS recipient businesses and 29% of CEWS businesses were in the food/accommodation, arts/entertainment/recreation or information/culture industries and so may qualify for the first new program. The hardest-hit program focuses business support only on those who saw the largest revenue losses. Statistics on revenue losses aren’t available so it is unclear how many businesses will keep support following the end of CEWS/CERS, although it's likely at least a quarter.

The CRSB and CRCB are the smaller worker support programs but both were extended. The CRSB has never had a huge take up and there has been little change in that regard in recent months. It was always a poor substitute for employer-provided paid sick leave. For most workers, paid sick leave falls under provincial labour jurisdiction. Nonetheless, there are likely 14,000 workers who would still qualify for the program. This is 21% of the peak value of 68,000 workers who received the benefit in the fall of 2020.

The CRCB has seen a steady decline in utilization since the end of June. This should come as no surprise since it was created, in part, to support parents who had to stay home to take care of kids due to COVID-19 quarantine or school/child care closures. It’s not surprising that there was much less call for the program by summer. The one encouraging sign is that CRCB usage hasn’t risen again in the first month of the new school year. Given recent trends, there are likely 54,000 workers who will lose support when it ends. This is 32% of the peak for this program, which it hit in January 2021.

The real elephant in the room is CRB support for self-employed workers. This program is on an entirely different scale than the other programs that have been supporting almost 900,000 jobless workers in recent months. While several of the other programs have seen significant decline in take-up recently, the CRB has not. The benefits paid from the program declined from the original $500 a week to $300 a week on July 17. This may explain the drop in recipients in late July and early August. But in the early fall there were more, not fewer, CRB recipients.

The closure of this program will mean 880,000 workers will lose support. At its peak, this program supported 1.2 million jobless workers. At its closure, it will be at 72% of that peak value—much higher than any other programs being shuttered on Saturday.

The proposed replacement for the CRB is the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB). However, you’d only be eligible for this if a province or city imposed a COVID-19 lockdown. This is different from the CRB for which one is eligible if they lost their job generally due to COVID-19 and its economic impact. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any place in Canada under lockdown and so there would be no one eligible for the CWLB at the time of writing.

There was clear interest in the fall election in permanently extending unemployment coverage for the self-employed. The Liberal platform targets January 2023 as the start date for such a new branch of employment insurance. That’s a long wait for the 880,000 workers who will lose financial support on Saturday. Since the CRB is for self-employed workers, they will be without EI support unless a change is made immediately.

Conclusion

All in all, there will be 880,000 Canadians who will lose support from the CRB. An additional 641,000 workers’ jobs may be at risk as 40,000 to 50,000 businesses lose the CEWS and CERS benefits. However, jobs in this second group could be maintained if businesses access re-opening grants or keep workers on in any event. Roughly a quarter of businesses may be eligible for the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program. The use of the CEWS and CERS has declined substantially since the summer. In the worst case scenario, in which these workers do lose work, they will almost certainly be eligible for EI, although benefit levels have also fallen in the past month.

While for businesses there are replacement programs and other programs, at the time of writing, no one would seem to qualify for the new Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit as there are no lockdowns at present. In order for the benefit to be created, the governing Liberals will need to pass legislation through parliament. For the almost 900,000 self-employed workers relying on the CRB, there is no planned replacement until January 2023, which is more than a year away. That’s too long to wait. The self-employed are one of the key groups identified early on as falling through the cracks. In order to learn anything from the pandemic on the labour market side, a longer-term solution should be found now and not in January 2023.

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