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The Canada Emergency Student Benefit: income support for students has finally arrived


This post on the Canada Emergency Student Benefit was written by Anna Goldfinch, one of our 2019-2020 articling students.

On April 22, 2020, the Federal Government announced a new package of benefits and programs to support students and recent graduates impacted by COVID-19.

The Federal Government has divided the proposed investments into four categories:

  1. Expanded student and youth programming to create employment opportunities,
  2. Enhanced student financial assistance for Fall 2020,
  3. The new Canada Emergency Student Benefit, and
  4. The new Canada Student Service Grant.

The overall investment represents an estimated additional nine billion dollars to post-secondary students in Canada. Learn more about the government’s plan for students here.

Legislation enacting some of these benefits and programs was passed on May 1, 2020.

The Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) is now available for students who cannot find summer jobs

If you are a student just finishing up the winter semester, and your summer job has been cancelled or you cannot find work, the CESB is likely the most relevant government program to you right now.

The new Canada Emergency Student Benefit Act creates a benefit payment of $1250 to $2000 per month if certain conditions are met.

Who is eligible?

Under section 2 of the Act, a “student” includes:

  • high school students who graduated in 2020, have applied for enrolment in a post-secondary program that is scheduled to begin before February 1, 2021 and who plan to enrol in the program if their application is accepted;
  • current post-secondary students who were enrolled in a degree, diploma, or certificate program at any time, between December 1, 2019 and August 2020;
  • recent post-secondary graduates who graduated no earlier than December 2019; and
  • the student must be a Canadian citizen, a registered Indian, or a person who is considered in need of protection by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Under section 6(1)(a) of the Act, the benefit will be available for students who are unable to find full-time summer employment or who are unable to work due to COVID-19 and who are not receiving either CERB or EI benefits. Please see our summaries of the CERB and EI programs here.

In general, the Act provides that students receiving CESB cannot receive any income from employment or self-employment, or benefits like EI, CERB, or provincial benefits for student parents while receiving CESB. However, the Act permits regulations to be passed that could permit some income up to a limit to be earned while receiving CESB. Regulations have not been promulgated as of the date of writing but the Government recently announced on its website that students can make up to $1000, before taxes, of income from employment and self-employment while they are receiving the CESB. Students receiving supplemental income should keep records of their earnings as the CRA will be verifying students eligibility to receive the CESB after they have applied.

How much is the benefit?

A student who is eligible for the CESB will receive $1250 per month. Students with dependants and/or permanent disabilities are eligible for an additional $750 per month.

The government considers a disability as “any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment — or a functional limitation — whether permanent or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.”

Dependants include:

  • “a child (adopted child, stepchild, or foster child) who is under 12 years old and is completely dependent on the student, student’s spouse, or common-law partner for support, care, and upbringing;
  • a person with a disability who is completely dependent on the student, student’s spouse, or common-law partner for support, care, and upbringing.”

When is it available?

Applications for the CESB opened on May 15, 2020 at 6 AM Eastern time.

The Federal Government has announced that application will be done through the Canada Revenue Agency My Account Portal. If you do not have a CRA My Account, you can register for one at this link.

Due to increased traffic on the CRA website, you may only login or register for the CRA My Account on designated days:

  • If you were born in the months of January, February, or March, your dedicated login or registration days are Mondays.
  • If you were born in the months of April, May, or June, your dedicated login or registration days are Tuesdays.
  • If you were born in the months of July, August, or September, your dedicated login or registration days are Wednesdays.
  • If you were born in the months of October, November, or December, your dedicated login or registration days are Thursdays.

Anyone can login to or register for the CRA My Account on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Students can apply for the benefit for any four-week period between the time the benefit becomes available and September 30, 2020. Students applying for the CESB on the basis that they cannot find work must attest to the fact that they are actively looking for employment. Students should apply for the CESB as soon as they are eligible, because the government will stop accepting applications as of September 30, 2020.

When to apply

Eligible post-secondary students and post-secondary graduates may apply for benefits for all four of the 4-week CESB eligibility periods.

The eligibility periods are:

  • May 10 to June 6, 2020
  • June 7 to July 4, 2020
  • July 5 to August 1, 2020
  • August 2 to August 29, 2020

Eligible graduating high school students who complete high school BEFORE June 7, 2020 may apply to receive benefits during the second eligibility period onward. If you are an eligible graduating high school student and you complete high school AFTER June 7, 2020, you can only apply for 2 eligibility periods, July 5 to August 1, 2020 and August 2, to August 29, 2020.

The CRA has an interactive website that will tell you when you should apply, and what eligibility periods you should apply for.

Students will need to re-apply for each 4-week period that they are eligible for.

Supporting Documents

The CRA has announced that it will be verifying applicant’s eligibility to receive the CESB after the student has applied. If you apply to receive the CESB, you may be asked to provide supporting documents. We encourage you to collect and keep documents that support your eligibility including, but not limited to, proof enrolment or graduation date, records of income or invoices of supplemental income earned during the eligibility period and, if applicable, documentation regarding your disability and/or your dependants.

Shortfalls in the CESB

The CESB is not a universal benefit. To be eligible for the CESB, a student must be a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen, which means that all international students in Canada are currently ineligible.

The CESB is less than CERB (the benefit for workers who made more than $5000 last year). The CESB is $1250 per month, while CERB is $2000 per month. If the objective of the program is to provide relief to students who would have otherwise been in the wider labour force between May and September 2020, there is a strong policy rationale for paying those workers who are students the same benefits as any other worker.

As a result of successful student-led campaigns, the CESB for students with disabilities and dependants was increased from $1750 per month to $2000 per month. The Canadian Federation of Students, one of the organizations leading the campaign to improve the CESB, is calling on the government to increase the CESB to $2000 per month for all students and to expand eligibility to international students. You can find out more information about its campaign here.

Though international students are currently excluded from the CESB, the Federal Government announced that international students will now be permitted to work over 20 hours per week while attending a post secondary institution, if they are working in essential services. It is unclear whether international students must be enrolled in classes this summer to qualify for this new exemption.

Lastly, eligible graduating high school students who complete high school on or after June 7, 2020 will receive an entire month less benefits than an eligible graduating high school student who completes high school before June 7, 2020.

Other student supports

In addition to the CESB, the Federal Government announced the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG). The Government has proposed that it will provide up to $5000 towards post-secondary costs in the Fall 2020 semester for students who participate in COVID-19 related volunteer work this summer. To receive CSSG funding, students will have to apply for “national service positions” which will be posted on the Government’s “I Need Help” platform, which is expected to be launched in the next few weeks.

Students may also find summer employment through the expanded Canada Summer Jobs program, and through sectors where the Federal Government has invested in student job placements including in agriculture, technology, health and essential services, innovation, science and economic development. Section 6(3) of the Act also mandates the Federal Government to provide students with a job-posting system designed to help students find employment.

For students returning to campus in the Fall, the Federal Government has proposed to broaden the eligibility criteria for Canada Student Loans so that more students may have access, and to double the needs-based, non-repayable Canada Student Grants for full and part-time post-secondary students. Expanded funding has also been proposed for First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation post-secondary students, and for graduate students and their research through the federal granting councils and the National Research Council.

More details are yet to come

While the legislation governing the CESB has been passed, there are still no accompanying regulations as of yet. These regulations may give more detailed information about eligibility, applications, and attestation requirements. Check back here for updates!