When Benefits Harm:
The Canadian Association of Social Workers Calls for an End to CERB Clawbacks
November 15, 2021 – The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) calls on the Government of Canada to immediately exclude pandemic benefits from income calculations used to determine federal assistance eligibility. Currently, many Canadians are being harmed by the very benefit designed to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are far too many stories of Canadians losing out on their child or seniors’ benefits because they accepted help when they needed it,” stated CASW President Joan Davis-Whelan. “But back in 2020, then Minister of Employment Qualtrough stated she wanted the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to be exempt from clawbacks under provincial and territorial social assistance and disability programs: so, why aren’t they exempt from clawbacks under federal programs, and why wasn’t this made more clear?”
Despite the many challenges it continues to pose, the COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrated that government has the capacity to act swiftly and decisively when required. “CERB must be immediately excluded from income calculations for federal benefits – clawing back these critical benefits is not only cruel, it also negates their intended policy impacts: while I understand it may make fiscal sense for the government, it makes no human sense for individuals or families,” added Davis-Whelan.
The issue of CERB clawbacks also re-opens the larger, ongoing conversation in Canada more broadly: many advocates are deeply concerned with the so-called ‘benefit trap’ created by assistance models that claws back benefits when a recipient gains other income.
Social workers know that these income supports simply aren’t designed to truly support individuals to thrive: the current system is onerous in terms of both qualification and navigation, and traps individuals and families in the cycle of poverty.
“Folks need a stable floor to stand on, not a shoddy safety net – that’s why we advocate for a streamlined, simplified, and compassionate income assistance system that could be realized through a basic income” said Davis-Whelan.
In this regard, CASW is calling on the federal government to seek out provincial and municipal partners to run three basic income pilot projects in one urban, one rural, and one northern community. “These region-based pilots would complement the National Poverty Reduction Strategy’s Market Basket Measure, and foster the creation of a novel, made-in-Canada approach to truly ending poverty,” concluded Davis-Whelan.