PREMIER Brian Pallister says 50,000 Manitobans are collecting federal emergency benefits — and he plans to pay as many as he can to drop them and go back to work.
"The (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) CERB program has served many Canadians very well in a time of economy uncertainty," Pallister said Thursday.
However, in Manitoba, times are less uncertain and businesses need workers to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
"Here, on the drive over, I saw half-a-dozen signs saying there’s work available for people," the premier said at a news event at FortWhyte Alive on the southwest edge of Winnipeg.
On Tuesday, Pallister announced the Manitoba Job Restart Program, to provide direct payments to a maximum of $2,000 to help qualified residents return to work. Program participants must voluntarily stop collecting the CERB or Canada Emergency Student Benefit from the federal government.
"As we lead the country in opening our economy, we want people to be able to sustain themselves in their lives through work," Pallister said Thursday. "Here is the opportunity to do that."
The premier previously said the program could help bring "tens of thousands" of Manitobans back to work, but didn’t know how many were receiving federal benefits or are expected to accept the offer.
On Thursday, he said the Manitoba Back to Work This Summer wage subsidy program had received more than 350 applications, and there are more than 50,000 Manitobans on CERB. When asked for the total number of Manitobans who have collected federal emergency benefits since they were first offered, Pallister’s office did not respond.
If Manitoba has only 50,000 people collecting CERB, it is far below the national average.
The national CERB uptake as of June 21 is 8.06 million, according to the federal government. If Manitoba had a similar per capita uptake, it would have 293,539 people who, at one point, collected the CERB.
Pallister said Thursday that Manitoba — unlike provinces hit hard by the pandemic, such as Quebec — shouldn’t have the same rate of CERB uptake. CERB is for those who don’t have the opportunity to work, but also disincentivizes those who do from working more, he said.
To illustrate his point, the former teacher has been using an example of a single-parent friend in her 30s, who wants to set a good example for her children. Pallister said she can work and earn $999 and collect $2,000 in CERB from the federal government.
"If she takes one more shift, she loses $2,000. That’s a real disincentive to her going back to work," he said. "Our program is designed to cushion that impact — so they can go back to work and not be penalized for doing so."
The Manitoba Job Restart Program will provide one initial payment of $500, and three additional bi-weekly payments for $500 each, over six weeks. It is a taxable benefit.
— with files from Dylan Robertson
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Updated on Friday, June 26, 2020 at 2:05 PM CDT: changes headline, corrects name of Manitoba Back to Work This Summer program