Sask. mom gets maternity benefits slashed following unexpected CERB repayment notice

A Saskatchewan woman wants to see more repayment options for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) after her recent notice of debt impacted her maternity benefits.

Like thousands of others, the pandemic forced Megan Chessall to claim employment insurance (EI) when she was out of work for six weeks. As a result, she received a CERB payment.

Chessall received an extra EI payment after she went back to work in 2020, but she said she paid that money back right away. At the time, she confirmed with the government she had no other outstanding payments.

“I squared everything up with them at that point,” she said. “I thought everything was totally taken care of.”

A year and a half later, Chessall received a government letter stating she owed $2,000 due to a CERB overpayment.

“I was absolutely shocked,” the mother of a five-month-old said.

The federal government issued CERB at the start of the pandemic as a way to quickly ensure financial support for Canadians who were forced to stay home due to COVID-19.

“When Canadians first applied for the CERB with Service Canada, they received an advance payment of $2,000. This was an advance of four weeks of the CERB, which was issued in order to get money into the pockets of Canadians as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said in a statement.

Some Canadians went back to work or were not on CERB long enough to reconcile the advance payments, according to the government.

As a result, in mid-November 2021, Service Canada started sending notices of debt to Canadians who have an outstanding balance of money owed due to the advance payment. The letter informs them of an overpayment and outlines the person’s appeal rights and the process for repayment.

“Service Canada is continuing to send these letters over the coming weeks. In order to prevent causing undue hardship, flexible repayment options are available by contacting the Canada Revenue Agency,” the statement said.

Chessall said she received her letter in the mail after the payment due date. A few days later, she noticed her maternity benefits had been reduced by 50 per cent.

After get passed off to a number of different representatives, Chessall said Service Canada told her that she would not get the rest of her maternity benefit for that month, but she could lower future reductions to 25 per cent.

“I tried to say to them, again, having a full working wage then going to maternity benefits there are no extras. There is nothing left over as it is,” she said, adding the option presented to her did not seem flexible, or feasible.

“Let me pay that back when I go back to work. I’ve paid into (EI) my whole working life and I’ve never used it before.”

The government paused EI debt recoupment during the pandemic and restarted the process in March 2022. The recoupment program reduces a person’s current EI benefits in order to recover outstanding debt, including clients with a repayment of CERB from Service Canada, according to ESDC.

However, this recoupment process, ESDC said, does not impact clients who received CERB through the CRA.

“The default reduction is equal to 50 per cent of the gross benefits payable, unless a lower agreed deduction has been made with the CRA,” the statement said.

Chessall could have filed a formal dispute, a process that could take up to three months. However, during that time, her maternity benefits would still be reduced.

Ultimately, she decided to pay her debt in full, as she worried the alternative would have impacted her financials even more.

Now she might have to cut her maternity leave short, she said.

“My plan all along was to stay home that full year with (my son) and that just kind of makes things tough,” she said.

Chessall said she is likely not alone in this, hearing similar stories from people on social media.

CTV News asked ESDC how many Canadians have paid back CERB and how many can still expect a notice of debt. ESDC did not answer the request.