As federal government expands CERB benefits, grassroots campaign continues the push for more student inclusion

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced expansions to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) today to assist more workers, the grassroots group Don't Forget Students say they’re still waiting for student inclusion in Canada’s COVID-19 emergency benefit.

First announced in late March, CERB provides temporary income support of $500 a week for 16 weeks to those who lost their income because of the pandemic.

On April 15, Trudeau announced several changes to CERB to better support seasonal and essential workers. Some changes include allowing workers to earn up to $1,000 a month while still collecting CERB, as well as extending benefits to seasonal workers and those who have run out of Employment Insurance.

In a press release, Don’t Forget Students — a grassroots group made up of “students, recent graduates, families, young parents, public servants and more” — welcomed the changes but urged the government to act quickly to make CERB available to university students and recent graduates.

“Each passing day that these supports have not been announced puts more financial stress and pressure on those who need help. Students have already been asked to wait for weeks. Time is running out,” reads the press release.

When the emergency benefit was first announced, many student groups were quick to point out how CERB’s working hours and earnings requirements could leave students ineligible for the program.

At UBC, students in the Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice Undergraduate Association (GRSJUA) launched a petition asking for student inclusion in CERB, which has attracted over 500 signatures as of April 15.

The #Don’tForgetStudents petition calling on the federal government to include students and recent graduates in the emergency benefit has also amassed over 37,000 signatures.

The petition notes that many students who work part-time jobs do not meet the $5,000 income requirement for CERB. Additionally, students may have not directly lost their jobs because of the pandemic but have seen summer job and internship opportunities delayed or cancelled.

“Students and recent graduates who are just starting their lives and careers now face the most uncertain job market since the Great Depression,” reads Don’t Forget Student’s petition. “Many have expenses due now, and will have no source of income because of the crisis.”

On April 8, the federal government announced changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) Program to address student concerns about the ability to find summer employment, including an increase to the wage subsidy so 100 per cent of the minimum wage is covered for employers.

But in a letter to the Prime Minister on April 15, several student organizations including Don’t Forget Students and the Canadian Federation of Students said the expansion of CSJ still leaves international students and students over 30 falling through the cracks.

“While a welcome first step to address the financial uncertainty students and recent graduates are facing, your government estimates the CSJ will only create 70,000 jobs,” reads the letter.

“Yet, there are millions of students and recent graduates in Canada who have lost their income or employment opportunities. Furthermore, not all students are eligible for the CSJ due to eligibility restrictions, most notably students over 30 and international students.”

In his address on April 15, Trudeau said further announcements related to post-secondary students and CERB would be arriving soon.

“For others who still need help, including post-secondary students and businesses worried about commercial rent, we’ll have more to say to you very soon,” said Trudeau. The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to additional requests for comment by press time.

The student groups wrote they will continue to stand by their assessment that the expansion of CERB to include all students will be the most equitable solution.

“We continue to believe that the only way to ensure that no one is left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic is by making all students and recent graduates eligible for the CERB,” reads the letter from student groups.