Wednesday, June 29, 2022

CERB to send fresh round of eligibility check letters from recipients to CRA

OTTAWA – The Canada Revenue Agency is sending a new round of letters to pandemic aid recipients to verify they were eligible for help, and to warn of a potential need for repayment.

This is the second time the agency is mailing Canada Emergency Response benefits to recipients as part of a process to verify eligibility for the millions of Canadians who received a $500-per-week benefit.

The CRA sent over 441,000 letters to CERB recipients at the end of 2020, asking them to verify that they met eligibility rules for payment.

Thousands more are going out since Thursday, this time targeting recipients who are allowed by the Liberals to earn more than $1,000 a month in mid-April 2020.

The agency says those receiving the letters have tax information that shows they earned a significant amount of income during the period they received the aid.

The letters said the CRA would work on flexible repayment plans for anyone who has to pay back some money without interest, but warned that would not happen for those who didn’t respond to the government’s message. .

The federal government started CERB early at the start of the pandemic, asking only applicants to prove they were eligible.

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The government opted for some advance verification checks to expedite payments during the lockdown in March and April 2020, when 30 lakh jobs were lost.

In the end, CERB distributed $81.64 billion to 8.9 million recipients.

The government has long said that officials will review claims to recover incorrect payments.

After a critical review by Auditor General Karen Hogan last March about missed opportunities to prevent fraud and wrongful payments, the government said it would spend four years tracking every wrong payment.

“The few letters that will come out this week are just the beginning. We’ll start with a few thousand,” said Marc Lemieux, CRA’s assistant commissioner in charge of collection and verification. “Ultimately, though, for a program of that size, I think it’s hundreds of thousands of letters that we’ll have to send and ask people to verify their eligibility.”

Letters sent in late 2020 asked some recipients to prove that they met one of the criteria for CERB: that they earned at least $5,000 in the previous 12-month period.

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However, the letters caused concern among low-income earners who were not able to repay, and interpreted the CRA’s message as setting a repayment deadline by the end of that year.

The agency seems to have learned from that experience and massaged the message this time.

Lemieux said letters this time say the agency does not have some information, and wants additional details to validate one’s CERB payment.

“People may have made mistakes, their position may have changed during the period for which they were getting benefits,” he said.

At this time no one is being asked to repay. They will have 45 days to approach the CRA, after which the agency can decide whether the person is owed the money back. Lemieux said the agency plans to be flexible on repayment plans for any outstanding amounts.

“We may need some information about their financial situation, and then we’ll see with them what’s possible, and we’ll see if we can accommodate them,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 27, 2022.


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