The federal government paid more than 300,000 teenagers, many of them high schoolers, nearly $636 million in benefits over the course of the CERB program, according to documents from the Canada Revenue Agency.
The documents, obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter, an Ottawa online news outlet, show that thousands of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 were approved for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program, which was brought into place to help Canadians weather job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many Canadian teenagers and youths work before the age of 15 — delivering newspapers or babysitting, for example — the CERB program was available only to those over the age of 15.
The documents show that 40,630 15-year-olds were approved for the benefit. The government paid out $81.2 million for that group. There were 92,784 16-year-olds approved, receiving nearly $186 million, and 184,576 17-year-olds received $369 million.
The program kicked off in late March and gave each recipient $500 per week for 26 weeks.
Applications for the program wrapped up in early December 2020 and recipients have been transitioned to the employment insurance regime.
The criteria were relatively open, with benefits available to those who had earned more than $5,000 in the year prior to applying, along with a handful of other eligibility requirements.
Over the course of the pandemic 8.9 million Canadians applied and nearly $82 billion had been paid out as of early October, according to the most recent government statistics. Those under the age of 25 accounted for around 18 per cent of total accepted applicants. The largest cohort receiving benefits, at around 24 per cent of all applicants, were between 25-to-34-years old.
Statistics Canada data show those between 15 and 24 were hardest hit by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Between February and March of last year, 873,000 people in this age range lost their jobs. By April, another 385,000 lost all or most of their hours.
Unemployment was worse for those aged 15 to 19, with more than a 40 per cent drop in employment compared to a 31 per cent drop in employment for those aged 20 to 24.
Former finance minister Bill Morneau, speaking to the House of Commons standing committee on finance, said the CERB was the “first and most important” measure the government brought in at the start of the pandemic.
“The CERB benefit … was recognizing how many people were going to be off work without enough money to pay for groceries or rent, and we needed to get support to them rapidly,” Morneau said.
Many Canadians used it to pay bills, pay off credit cards or cover living expenses and child care, but it could have also been spent on anything else. The income from CERB is taxable.
Already, there have been a number of issues with the CERB benefits, including concerns about repayment shocks to some who thought they were eligible. In December, for example, the CRA sent letters to around 500,000 Canadians seeking more information about eligibility and raising concerns among some that they would have to repay their benefits.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said around one million Canadians had already repaid benefits after realizing they were ineligible.
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