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CRA $2,000/Month Emergency Benefit: Can You Get It?

Christopher Liew, CFA
A close up image of Canadian $20 Dollar bills

The introduction of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) by the federal government was a welcome move. Canadians who are finding it difficult to make ends meet due to lost income would have financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The taxable benefit of $2,000 per month for up to four months is available to workers who lost all of their income. However, the eligibility criteria left many Canadians complaining. Part-time, seasonal, and contractual workers were left out in the cold, as they did not qualify to receive the CERB benefit.

New criteria

Upon seeing that many did not qualify for the CERB, the government introduced more flexible criteria. In the expanded eligibility, part-time, seasonal, and contractual workers can now claim CERB benefits. Similarly, people making less than $1,000 a month due to fewer work hours are included.

Restructuring and streamlining

Because of the new rules, thousands of part-time employees laid off by Cineplex (TSX:CGX) can receive the CERB benefits. The media and entertainment company was among the first companies to layoff part-time staff. More than 13,000 workers were affected after the closure of over 165 movie theaters.

Given that the business is at standstill, Cineplex is also doing a small company restructuring. The latest announcement is that less than 100 full-time employees were cut. Cineplex Director of Communications Sarah Van Lange confirmed the terminations.

The overall plan is to reduce annual costs by about $25 million. According to Van Lange, the changes were necessary. Cineplex is streamlining the business so it needs to eliminate duplicate roles.

Top executives, as well as the remaining full-time employees, are taking steep salary cuts. Cineplex offered laid-off part-time employees who didn’t qualify to receive unemployment insurance a lump sum payment equivalent to two-and-a-half weeks’ pay.

The temporary cost-cutting measures will also enable Cineplex to meet outstanding debt obligations. It’s a major condition of potential buyer Cineworld Group.

The global cinema chain has offered to acquire Cineplex for $2.1 billion. However, the shares of both the seller and the buyer are slumping on the stock market.

Cineplex, a Canadian icon and once a dividend aristocrat, is losing by 58.9% year-to-date on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). With the cloud of uncertainty hovering over the future of cinema operators, lenders of Cineworld will most likely oppose a Cineplex takeover.

Management has extended the closure of its network of theatres and location-based entertainment venues across Canada beyond April 2, 2020, for an indefinite period. As problems in liquidity mounts, Cineplex might soon seek rent deferrals from landlords.

The sole purpose of CERB

Now that the CERB design flaw is corrected, more Canadians can claim the benefits. But recipients need to understand the sole purpose of the CERB. The program intends to provide economic support to all workers who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It wouldn’t be advisable to even use the money to invest or for any other purpose except to tide you over due to financial dislocation.

The expanded criteria have significantly improved the original CERB. More changes might be necessary to make CERB as close to becoming a universal, direct benefit.

The post CRA $2,000/Month Emergency Benefit: Can You Get It? appeared first on The Motley Fool Canada.

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Fool contributor Christopher Liew has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

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