For the self-employed in Canada’s gig economy, government relief programs with rigid barriers are forcing some tough choices. A childcare provider in Arnprior, Ont., agonized over reopening her shuttered home business to take in children of emergency workers on the frontline at the risk of exposing her family to the virus. In just three days, a Toronto makeup artist saw clients cancel appointments for the rest of the year.

Both face a gut-wrenching choice. If the daycare provider takes in one or two children, or if the makeup artist books a few new jobs, the resulting income still won’t be enough to live on. It will, however, put them at risk of disqualification from the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), the federal aid package intended to shore up lost income during the pandemic.