The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit CERB put cash in people’s hands, quickly, when COVID-19 hit. It was a smart and remarkable achievement. It looked like the beginnings of a basic income — but it wasn’t quite. It left out people who needed it. It got complicated with conditions, changes, interactions with other emergency benefits, and with provincial and territorial regimes. It confused applicants and recipients as their circumstances changed.

Now, CERB repayment demands are causing hardship, and while amnesty is needed that’s only a temporary reprieve, for some. The pandemic’s viral and economic toll is still rising. Long-standing inequalities and poverty are deepening and there’s no vaccine for that. If Canada hopes to withstand this crisis and “build back better” we need concrete government action on the path to a basic income. The human consequences of inaction are almost unthinkable.