The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit or CERB acted as a lifeline for many Canadians at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, residents across Canada, including here in Saskatchewan, have received letters stating that they owe $2,000 for CERB repayment to the CRA.  

According to the CRA, the $2,000 repayment is for an advanced check that people received when the CRA started sending out the payments. 

The CRA said in a statement to Discover Moose Jaw office: 

 “In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when many Canadians had to stay home, the Government of Canada worked swiftly to ensure they had financial support as soon as possible. When Canadians first applied for the CERB with Service Canada, they received an advance payment of $2000. This was an advance of four weeks of the CERB, which was issued in order to get money into the pockets of Canadians as quickly as possible. 

To reconcile this advance payment for Canadians who remained eligible for CERB, in the summer of 2020, the Department applied this advance against other payment periods in June, July and August (for weeks 13 and 14 as well as for weeks 19 and 20 claimed), where recipients saw an interruption in payments in order to apply the money paid to weeks of eligibility. This approach fully reconciled the CERB payments for more than 1 million clients.” 

To break it down, people who went back to work or canceled their CERB payments before the CRA’s repayment period started in June, those people have received the repayment checks in the mail. 

The letters were still unexpected for many people but there were warnings that repayment would be necessary. 

Minister Qualtrough said this in a statement from November 2021:  

“In order to get support out to Canadians as quickly as possible, those who applied for the CERB at the beginning of the pandemic through Service Canada received an advance CERB payment. For many, this advance payment was reconciled while they were still receiving the CERB. Service Canada will now begin reaching out directly to those individuals who went off the CERB after returning to work and prior to that payment being reconciled.  Over the next number of months, the Government of Canada will be working with Canadians who may be required to make a repayment. They will work with Canadians to establish flexible repayment schedules if needed, with an eye to their ability to pay. In addition, no penalties or interest will be charged on the emergency benefit overpayment. Canadians will not be put into financial hardship by having to repay emergency benefits they received. Service Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) are there to discuss available options with Canadians. As we work to finish the fight against COVID-19, we will continue to have Canadians’ backs.”  

Even with this warning, many residents, including many in Moose Jaw were still caught off-guard.  

Their local MP Fraser Tolmie says these repayment notices couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for Canadians.  

“Quite honestly the timing of these payment notices is very bad. We’re in the middle of a global energy crisis, an inflationary crisis at home, the war in Ukraine. It’s deeply insensitive and shows how out-of-touch this government is right now,” he says. “It was a rushed program that’s come out. It was not clearly designed; it was not clearly understood by the people that were applying. I don’t think it was actually understood by the people doling out the money here... There’s obviously a huge flaw in the system.”  

The flaw in the system Tolmie is referring to is the situation when people applied for unemployment benefits like EI just before CERB cheques started rolling out and those people received CERB cheques in the mail rather than EI payments.