It has been a challenging year for everyone. We are tremendously grateful that the Federal Government introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for those in need, and that it was restructured in meaningful ways that make it more accessible for independent artists and gig workers. We also welcomed the news that support would be further extended as needed until September 2021 through the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB).
However, we are concerned that many artists have recently been asked to repay their CERB/CRB claims because of the lack of clarity on eligibility terms from the Federal Government.
When CERB was launched, there was no official guidance as to whether eligibility was based on gross or net income. Some artists filed an application for CERB based on their 2019 gross income, which is the amount of money you earn before tax or other deductions. Since then, further information has been provided that eligibility should be based on net income. This policy update places many artists in an even more precarious socio-economic position than they faced before and during this ongoing crisis.
Many artists average their income from one year to the next, and the good years offset the bad ones – read Making a living as an artist: more complex than an hourly wage for details on some of the ways artists derive their income. We also know there are fewer opportunities available to artists this year to earn an income, which makes it even more challenging for people to pay back money they thought they were eligible for. We believe it is unacceptable to penalize applicants for this ambiguity, especially given the precarious position many people find themselves in due to ongoing closures and loss of opportunities.
As such, we recommend that the $5,000 eligibility threshold be adjusted to be based on gross income for self-employed workers, which is consistent with new guidance for employed workers.
In the meantime, we want to hear from visual artists that are being asked to return their emergency benefits, so we can advocate for positive change. We ask that artists add their stories to this form, and to get in touch with their provincial CARFAC office if you wish to speak with someone about it further. We will not disclose any personal information to other parties, and we will follow up with further action in the days to come.