Future unclear for Nunavut recipients of emergency COVID-19 benefits, says MLA

“There are many unanswered questions about how ineligible CERB recipients will be impacted”

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main says that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, has been beneficial for some of his constituents, but he is concerned about what will happen when federal government claw-backs begin during tax season. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

John Main, Nunavut’s MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, says he worries that the initial relief provided by the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit may turn into a hardship during “the coldest and one of the hardest times of year for many people in Nunavut.”

In June, Premier Joe Savikataaq cautioned Nunavummiut that although the CERB money is “very easy to access,” those that apply who aren’t eligible will have to pay it back the next time they do their taxes.

“The $2,000 per month payments … have been beneficial for some of my constituents who were put out of work or left without a source of income due to lockdown restrictions,” Main said during a member’s statement in the legislature on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

“As with many federal initiatives, the impact of this CERB payment has been mixed in Nunavut. There have been positive aspects and some negative aspects.”

Among the negative aspects were issues with how the program was delivered in Nunavut and the way in which its guidelines were communicated, including “some pretty fundamental issues around language,” said Main.

Although many of those were problems related to the federal government’s handling of the benefit that “they do have to answer for,” said Main, his concerns were focused on the interaction between the Department of Family Service’s income assistance program and CERB.

According to a letter from David Akeeagok, the acting minister of family services, sent to Main last week, there was a decrease of 2,049 heads of households seeking or receiving income assistance payments between February and August of this year.

“We do not have data that allows us to track why clients have not made appointments to seek income assistance, but it would be reasonable to conclude that CERB has had a significant impact,” said Main, reading from the letter.

According to a Statistics Canada report, by the end of June, over 8,000 Nunavut residents—that is roughly 23 per cent of the territory—had received CERB payments.

Main wanted to know how those CERB recipients who previously relied on the income assistance program could make the transition back into that program, given the fact that Nunavut, unlike the other territories, didn’t create an exemption that allowed qualifying residents to receive both at the same time.

Akeeagok replied that, depending on need, some Nunavummiut may be eligible for both CERB and income assistance.

“It is not just a straight cut-off,” he said.

“What we’ve been advocating for is that for those that do need income assistance, that they call ahead and book an appointment.”

From there Akeeagok said that income assistance workers will take everything, including CERB, into consideration during the income assistance review.

Main’s other concern was that “there are many unanswered questions about how ineligible CERB recipients will be impacted,” referring to federal claw-backs during tax season.

According to Akeeagok, many of those who rely on income assistance also rely on federal programs such as the goods and services tax rebate and child benefit.

“If you don’t pay for your taxes the first claw-backs would be your federal benefits,” Akeeagok said.

“I am worried,” he added.

Akeeagok concluded by saying that there are ongoing federal, provincial and territorial meetings geared towards mitigating these potential impacts as much as possible.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Easy Pay Day on

    I know a few guys in jail who have cashed in on the easy money. The program is well meaning I guess but so poorly executed it really boggles the mind.

  2. Posted by Food Banks on

    What no one is talking in all this is the local food banks.
    So in April to now there have been piles of subsidies and money flowing into food banks and low income pockets.
    Now they are not going to be getting any monies and the need is going to be the greatest. It is a stupid cycle that they put the north into.

    • Posted by Executive Director, Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre on

      This is a very good point that worries us as well. Governments will soon start reducing deficits, individuals will find it difficult to make ends meet, and non-profits who were expected to spend their emergency funding in 2020 will have little to work with.

    • Posted by The Burn Begins on

      No one “put the north” in this situation. Individuals, driven by greed and ignoring the clear warning from the government, put themselves in this situation by fraudulently applying for money that they didn’t qualify for.

      There are going to be many burned by their decision making.

  3. Posted by Zero on

    Nothing will happen to them. Lots of the people who committed fraud with the CERB are on income support. They’re going to garnish welfare payments? I just can’t see that happening without some sort of uproar. The ones who did this and have kids won’t be able to feed their kids, and that will open a whole can of worms. Jail? Good luck tracking everyone down and the courts couldn’t handle it anyway. So that is my guess. Nothing will happen. I don’t agree with it, but my guess is most of the people in Nunavut who stole CERB money will be able to go on as if nothing happened.

  4. Posted by How Many Ineligible? on

    This is gonna be an absolute mess. With the decrease of 2,049 heads of household seeking or receiving income assistance, the question that should be asked to Family Services is: How many income assistance recipients reported any income at all prior to the CERB benefit?
    Because the answer to that question is that over 90% of income assistance recipients report no income at all, and all of those people are then ineligible for CERB. When they are found out, and they will be, they will owe a debt to the federal government in an amount they will likely never be able to repay.
    And that’s only one of the issues. The other issue is, how many people receiving CERB have been putting aside a portion of it to pay towards their 2020 income tax? When tax season comes, I imagine there’s going to be a pretty good amount of people who owe a fairly significant amount of income tax to the feds that they’re not going to be able to pay.
    The effects from this will go on here for years.

  5. Posted by nunai on

    perhaps lots of GN staff received CERB too.

  6. Posted by Fred on

    Sucks to be them when the Feds come to claw it back from the rest of their federal benefits like income tax, GST, child tax, etc.

    When you knowingly commit a crime you can expect to do the time, so to speak. If they can’t pay the funds back then there will likely be a lot of people spending their weekends in local cells. Like I said sucks to be them, and no sympathy from me.

    They knew they were not eligible but applied anyway, and most spent it foolishly because as they said “it’s free money, easy come easy go”. The happy ones are the ATV and vehicle rental companies in the communities as that’s where a good chunk of those funds went to. Every time CERB payments were made there were no more rentals available for a few days.

  7. Posted by Taylor on

    The GN and/or feds have a big decision to make with regards to all these people who cheated the system. Will they just forgive the debts that these people owe the feds? Or will they let these people deal with the problems they created? Can you really let people who cheated like this, with plenty of warning, off scott free? On the other hand can the GN afford to have a significant portion of its population dip further into poverty?
    Then there’s the issue that some of these people cheated because they were desperate or were forced by a family member to apply to CERB. Is there even a way to differentiate between these people and those who just used CERB to buy booze and cause havoc in the community?
    I agree with the other commenters: what a mess. One thing I’m happy about is that this binge drinking circus is over (there’ll still be mayhem but not to the level its been since March)

  8. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    what a farce that system of CERB’aholics has created for everyone.

    not only will they be clawed back come tax time but they will be worse off after all is said and done. the Feds needed to make it easy to access the month for those who needed it, the first time.

    the payments after this should have been investigated much more indepth. there is no reason to have access to money that easily. you don’t see me trying to apply for my old age pension or retirement benefits 20 years early. why should any other benefits like this be so easy to access?

    the open coffers of the liberal government will be a burden on us for years to come. good ole JT got elected with the legalized marijuana and is trying to stay in power by feeding the masses by keeping them on the gov’t teet.

    a person can eat a slice of pie. but just because you can eat 4 pies for supper doesn’t mean you should.

    just like you shouldn’t apply for CERB if you know you don’t qualify.

  9. Posted by Math on

    Unfortunately a lot of people will be burned by this whether they deserve it or not. In the early days of CERB, it really wasn’t clear to anyone who qualified and who didn’t, so many honest folks are on the hook as well.

    It is a misguided policy, crafted by children. I have heard stories of business people who, in the early days of Covid, hired staff to sanitize and clean premises only to see them all quit and go on CERB once the program was rolled out.

    Sadly, the economy as a whole will suffer in 2021 as these programs dry up and with the looming increase in household debt levels to the feds.

    When it comes to voting, this may be a useful tool:
    Conservatives = Adults,
    Liberals = Children,
    NDP = Family Pet,
    Green = Plants.

    All are living and play a nice role in our Canadian Family but not all are qualified to lead a household.

    • Posted by slerb on

      No, it was always clear. And they’ve had lots of time to try to make things right if, for some reason they didn’t get it at first.

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