Justin Trudeau says Canada will go after people who received benefits but don't deserve them
Attention people who think they managed to "cheat" Canada's Emergency Response Benefit system into free cash from the government: Authorities will be cracking down on CERB fraud... eventually.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised as much during his daily pandemic press conference on Friday, not long after the National Post leaked news of a memo in which government staffers were told to approve CERB claims even when they suspect an applicant doesn't actually qualify.
As it stands now, it's on individual Canadians to let the government know whether or not they are eligible for the $2,000 per month benefit. If they lie, they get it anyway, thanks to the government's speedy "pay now, thoroughly verify later" approval process.
"In this situation, we made the deliberate choice to get the money out the door to millions of Canadians who needed it and bring in measures to go back and go after retroactively people who might have tried to defraud the system," said Trudeau during his daily pandemic press conference outside Rideau Cottage on Friday.
"The response, in order to keep Canadians safe and healthy needed to be to get them the money quickly and that's exactly what we did."
"We made the deliberate choice to get the money out the door to millions of Cdns who needed it & bring in measures to go back—go after retroactively people who might have tried to defraud the system," PM Trudeau says when asked re possible fraudulent CERB claims #cdnpoli #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/cMVR1EWgB2— CPAC (@CPAC_TV) May 15, 2020
Some 7.8 million payments have already been made through the $35 billion stimulus program, meaning that the country stands to lose a lot of money if fraud rates reach even two or three per cent (as some officials predict they will.)
When the benefit was announced, millions of people across the country jumped at the chance to score free government money. Some of them even quit their jobs to take advantage of it. Those people do not qualify, though reports run rampant of such people collecting $500 a week for doing absolutely nothing.
You see, CERB is meant for people who were forced to stop working due to COVID-19 — not those who quit or were fired for cause. Successful applicants must also have earned a minimum of $5,000 over the past 12 months, earn less than $1,000 a month now, and fail to qualify for EI (with some health and family-related exceptions).
Concerns have been raised many times about potential fraudsters taking advantage of the system, but Trudeau has maintained that everything will be squared away in the future, and that he believes the majority of Canadians have been honest.
"We had a straightforward choice from the very beginning: do we get the money out as quickly as possible to everyone who need it and then bring in measures that go back and create consequences and get the money back from people that took it without needing it?" said Trudeau on Thursday.
"Or do we put in place a process that verifies carefully every application so that only those who needed it get it and fraudsters wouldn't be able to get it. The problem with the second approach is that it would have been months for delivering to the well over 7 million Canadians that needed it."
The Canada Revenue Agency is reportedly working on a plan to better safeguard the application process, which will include requiring more detailed information about an applicant's employment situation and income earned during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for Canada's Minister of Employment told CTV on Thursday that "the agency will also implement a stricter alert system to flag suspicious or unusual claims."
CBC News meanwhile reported, based on a briefing with "senior CRA officials" that the government won't be validating CERB claims until after taxes are filed for 2021.
At that time, CRA officials will be reaching out to employers for information about claimants who've already been approved, among other things, to verify eligibility.
Those who are found to have lied about their situation during the pandemic will be forced to pay back all of the money they received through the CERB.
Said Trudeau during today's press conference of the issue: "We will ensure that fraudsters and people that got the benefits unfairly or inappropriately will have to pay them back."
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