Federal government announces Canada Emergency Student Benefit

National News

New benefit will give students $1 250 per month, applications open May 15

Federal government buildings in Ottawa
Photo sourced via Pixabay

On April 22, after weeks of lobbying by student groups to make the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) universal and thus applicable to students, the federal government announced a new Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) as part of a nine billion aid package earmarked to support students.

The CESB will provide most students with $1 250 per month from May to August 2020, while students with children or disabilities will receive the same amount as CERB recipients —  $2 000 per month. The benefit addresses the gap left by CERB, which explicitly excluded students who were unemployed and would be looking for work over the summer. 

The new benefit is available to Canadian citizens or permanent residents who are enrolled in a post-secondary program, graduated from post-secondary no earlier than December 2019, have applied for and will be enrolling in a post-secondary program in the next few months, or are living abroad and meet one of the former criteria. As with CERB, applicants are allowed to earn up to $1 000 a month while receiving the new student benefit. International students are not eligible for the CESB.

The benefit was introduced in parliament on April 29 and received royal assent from the Senate on May 1. Applications will be processed by the Canada Revenue Agency. At the time of writing, the federal government has not released any further information about the application process — despite the benefit promising to offer students support for May.  

In an interview with the Martlet, Victoria MP Laurel Collins said that the government expects to start accepting applications on May 11. The federal government has since updated students — the application should open on May 15. Collins also said that she believes that the new benefit will be retroactive to May 1.

The bill concerning the CESB was modified over the course of its debate in parliament. The New Democratic Party (NDP) pushed for the amount of funding for the benefit to be made equal to CERB. Although this did not go through, the amount going to students with children or disabilities was raised from the initial figure of $1 750 per month to $2 000 a month. 

Meanwhile, the Conservatives expressed concerns that a government handout would disincentivize students to find employment during the summer — thus leading to a strain on the service industry. In order to combat this, parliament included in the CESB bill a stipulation that applicants will need to declare in their application that they have been looking for work. However, Collins says that “there won’t be any requirement to prove that, you’ll just have to declare it.” 

Despite the expansion of federal benefits to include more students, the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers, which will offer a one time $1 000 payment to B.C. residents receiving CERB, will not be expanded to include CESB recipients. In a statement to the Martlet, the B.C. Ministry of Finance said that students seeking extra aid should contact their post-secondary institution for support. This includes the $3.5 million of emergency support earmarked for B.C.’s 25 post-secondary institutions, of which $140 000 has gone into UVic’s COVID-19 Emergency Bursary.

UVic students can apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Bursary on the university’s website through an online application form. This bursary is available to both domestic and international students and is meant to help students with “urgent and emerging needs” and to allow students to be able to continue their studies. The amount recipients receive will vary and is based on circumstances such as job loss, as well as access to housing, food, tuition, child care, and mental health support.

Also included in the nine billion funding package announced by the government are added measures to help students find jobs and access funding. This includes the Canada Student Service Grant, which will pay students for volunteer work over the summer up to a total of $5 000 dollars based on hours put in. The government is set to launch an online platform called “I Want to Help” to connect students with employment and volunteer opportunities. 

The government has implemented additional measures to create jobs for students through the Student Work Placement Program, the Canada Summer Jobs program, and through government agencies. With these initiatives, the government is estimating that it will be able to create 70 000 new jobs for Canada’s 2 million post-secondary students.

Student groups are, for the most part, pleased with the new CESB and accompanying aid package announced by the federal government. 

Sarina de Havelyn, the Director of Outreach and University Relations for the UVSS said in an emailed statement to the Martlet that though the aid package is a welcome and needed move by the federal government, international students are more vulnerable and need support.

De Havelyn raised the issue that the benefit only includes graduated students since December 2019 and that it can take months for students to establish themselves following their graduation. She commended the six-month, interest-free moratorium on student loans as well as the increases in funding for student bursaries and grants but noted that these do not help all students. 

Meanwhile, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), a non-partisan and non-profit student organization which represents 24 student associations and over 300 000 post-secondary students across the country, stated that although they would have liked to have seen the CESB match CERB for funding, they are pleased to see some support for students. 

“Our first understanding was that something like the CESB might not have even been something that would have happened, so for something like that to be announced in the first place I think is a positive thing,” said Adam Brown, Chair of CASA, in a phone interview with the Martlet.  

Brown stated his belief that the package as a whole will help students and that students should be seeking out any and all initiatives that they are eligible for. 

“Our immediate priority is making sure students can pay their rent and get food on the table for the next few months,” said Brown. “I think a number of the measures that have been announced will be able to do that.”

Brown’s biggest concern with the new aid package is the ineligibility of international students for the CESB. Accordingly, CASA’s advocacy over the next few months will be focused on financial accessibility for international students eligible for CERB, pushing the federal government to include international students in the Canada Summer Jobs program, and ensuring that international students that have enrolled for the fall in Canada can actually get into the country.  Looking further ahead, Brown says that he hopes the federal government will open Canada’s borders in the fall to international students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary institutions. 

“It’s important that international students who have enrolled for the fall in Canada are able to get into the country for taking that,” said Brown. “Obviously they would have to follow whatever sort of health protocols or isolation protocols that would be in place upon their arrival into the country but we are pushing for the federal government to allow that sort of travel into the country.”

Information about the full list of support programs available for students can be found on the Government of Canada website.