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(WINDSOR, ON) – Today, Brian Masse NDP M.P. (Windsor West), Lisa Gretzky M.P.P (Windsor West) Ontario NDP’s critic for Community and Social Services were joined by Legal Assistance of Windsor Staff Lawyer, Laura Stairs and Contract Lawyer, Sarah Voegeli, to respond to the Trudeau Liberals clawback on CERB repayments for low income families.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant economic strain on Canadians and CERB repayment will undoubtedly increase the helplessness of those already struggling financially, due to unclear messaging from the federal government on eligibility. Because there were no checks in place to ensure applicants were eligible, many of these individuals could be faced with having to repay thousands of dollars causing dire financial hardship.

While the governments February 9, 2021 announcement to provide relief for self employed individuals was promising, it falls short of realizing the impact of enforcing CERB repayment on low income families. For many low-income individuals, the need to access income supports was so great that they applied for and received CERB believing they were eligible.

“The Liberal government should never have asked Canadians who did nothing wrong to repay the CERB. By doing so, the government has placed families in a stressful situation. Low income individuals and families who were already struggling through the pandemic saw CERB as a lifeline during an unprecedented crisis. Making them repay the CERB after they applied in good faith, with unclear criteria from the government is unfair and detrimental to the mental health of a large part of our vulnerable population in Windsor Essex. A years’ grace period will make no difference in their ability to pay back CERB,” Masse stated.

Legal Assistance of Windsor states that the lack of clarity around CERB eligibility and repayment requirements has made it challenging to properly advise clients facing these uncertainties.

“LAW is preparing for the aftereffects of receiving CERB, which we anticipate we will continue to see over the next few years. Receipt of CERB has ripple effects into client’s social assistance, rent geared to income housing and now, potentially receipt of federal benefits distributed through the income tax system if clients are required to repay,” says Sarah Voegeli, Contract Lawyer from LAW.

“The common theme among all my clients who received CERB is the sense of uncertainty and anxiety of what will come next. Even those who seemingly met the criteria are nervous that they made a mistake.

Repayment is a terrifying prospect for clients who already struggle to support themselves and their families,” stated Laura Stairs, Staff Lawyer with LAW.

Lisa Gretzky MPP stated, “The pandemic has made the struggle with poverty for many Canadians, from persons living with disabilities, those receiving social assistance and low-income seniors even more difficult. The need for support from both the provincial and federal governments were essential for basic survival with all the additional costs and to protect people’s health and safety. Now, the lack of coordination and governmental misinformation has created real financial difficulties for the most vulnerable in our community. Action to resolve this problem is needed immediately. No more jurisdictional blame game.”

Requiring low-income CERB recipients to repay the benefit will undoubtedly increase the helplessness many Canadians already feel. The COVID Pandemic is far from over and the lasting impacts of the crisis remain unknown. To ensure that our communities remain resilient and flexible enough to come out of this crisis we need to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbours have an opportunity to succeed.

Brian Masse MP Windsor West and LAW endorse the recommendations of Campaign 2000 and call on the Liberal government to immediately implement CERB repayment amnesty for individuals whose income for 2020 is $30,000 or less, two person families whose total income is $45,000 or less, three person families whose total income is $50,000 or less, with larger families receiving amnesty based on the total income Census Family Low Income Measure (After Tax) threshold that applies to their family size; and fair reduces repayment plans for those whose annual income is above but close to these low-income thresholds.

New Democrats believe it makes sense to offer a CERB repayment amnesty for low-income Canadians and have been pushing for more comprehensive federal benefit for people living with disabilities of $2200 per month.

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