Skip to main content

EI? CERB? What does it all mean?

Publish date: Wednesday, April 08, 2020 update

Updated April 17, 2020 to reflect recent changes to CERB.

Canada has launched one of its largest economic programs in a generation in response to the COVID-19 crisis. With new details announced every day, many are scratching their heads trying to determine their eligibility and how it all works.

We know people in your community, and perhaps members of your family, have a lot of questions. We’re hoping this brief summary, plus our helpful links below, will help. Please remember that with new information being released nearly daily, if you see contradictory information from two reliable sources, always go with the most recently released article.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Employment Insurance (EI) are each designed to provide Canadians with temporary income during a period of lost income. The application for both is done through a single portal on the CRA website, which will guide you to apply for the correct program based on your answers. You do not require doctor’s notes if illness if your reason for applying to either program is rooted in illness, and you can prove you identity faster (and get paid more quickly) by linking your Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) account to your bank or credit union account. While the program opened April 6, the government is asking applicants to stagger their applications based on their birth month to help manage the volume. That means those born in January, February, and March should apply on Mondays; those born in April, May, and June should apply on Tuesdays; those born in July, August, and September should apply on Wednesdays; and those born in October, November, and December should apply on Thursdays. Anyone can apply on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Now, the differences between the two programs:

Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)

  • If you qualify, you will receive $2,000 for every four weeks to a maximum of 16 weeks between March 15 (payments will be made retroactively) and October 3, 2020.
  • You are able to apply if you had at least $5,000 in income from work (employment or self-employment), EI maternity or parental benefits, or Quebec’s parental benefits program (QPIP) in the last year and you have less than $1000 income from employment, self-employment, or any other benefits for 14 consecutive days.
  • The CERB is for those who have lost wages due to illness, caring for family members who are ill, and shifts cut for reasons related to COVID-19. 
  • The official portal for more information about the CERB can be found at

Employment Insurance (EI)

  • An existing program for people who have lost their jobs, if you qualify, you will receive biweekly direct deposit payments worth up to 55% of your typical paycheque or $573 per week, whichever is less.
  • If you have applied for EI and the CERB is either a better fit or more financially beneficial to you, your application will transfer to the CERB automatically, with no further action required from you.

Other programs:

  • The proposed new Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy would subsidize 75% of wages for the first $58,700 of an employee’s salary for organizations that have lost 15% or more of their revenue. This program will apply to non-publicly funded businesses of all sizes as well as non-profits and charities.
  • If you already receive the Canada Child Benefit, the federal government will automatically pay a lump sum top-up in May, with no action required on your part.

Unfortunately, the cracks in these programs are significant, with as many as a third of unemployed Canadians set to receive nothing from either CERB or EI. The Prime Minister has announced that changes are coming, so please be patient with the hardworking public servants who are online and on the phones trying to help. Reach out to your local Member of Parliament to ask them to close the gaps in the economic relief measures. Together, we can raise our voices to ensure that no member of our community gets left behind.

Additional resources:

The United Steelworkers’ Guide to Federal Support Programs
The CSI guide to the CERB application
Four initiatives to COVID-19 related income loss
A professor’s plain language explanation of recently announced programs


More about AMAPCEO and our Members: Established in 1992, AMAPCEO is a bargaining agent that represents 14,000 professional and supervisory public servants, most of whom work directly for the Government of Ontario in every ministry and in a number of agencies, boards and commissions; in 130 communities throughout Ontario and in 12 cities outside Canada. We also represent employees outside the Ontario Public Service in: the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario; Ontario Health - Quality; the Ontario Arts Council; Public Health Ontario; the Waypoint Mental Health Centre in Penetanguishene; and in the former Offices of the Ontario Child Advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner (now part of the Ontario Ombudsman).