Eight more weeks of CERB to cost $17.9 billion, budget officer says

A Liberal pledge to provide eight extra weeks of payments through the cornerstone benefit for people who’ve lost all or nearly all their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cost the government $17.9 billion, the parliamentary budget officer says.

The report this morning from budget officer Yves Giroux says that would bring the total cost of the benefit program for people who’ve lost all or nearly all their work to the COVID-19 pandemic to $71.3 billion.

The CERB, now budgeted at $60 billion, has paid out $52.14 billion to over eight million people as of Sunday, as demand surges past original federal expectations.

With the first cohort of CERB applicants set to hit the 16-week limit on the payments early next month, the Liberals have promised to increase it to 24 weeks to provide help through the summer for those who need it.

Giroux’s report says the additional cost to the program depends heavily on the outlook for the economy and jobs, as well as the course of the pandemic.

The report says further uncertainty over the final cost of the program rests on the actual takeup of the separate federal wage subsidy program, which the Liberals plan to retool.

A report from a group of experts convened by the C.D. Howe Institute urged the Liberals to take the extra time bought by extending the CERB to rework the program itself and put in a program to help recipients retrain for other or better jobs.

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