With the unemployment rate at a historic low, Ottawa is certainly not overwhelmed with employment insurance claims. However, the delays in obtaining a first payment can reach four or even five months.
Posted at 6:30 a.m.
Remember how quick it was two years ago to claim CERB – even fraudulently. The system, although very new and created in record time, was effective. A few mouse clicks and the check was in the mail.
Getting employment insurance is another story.
The waiting period, in many cases, is now counted in months. It’s abnormally long.
The Coalition of Quebec Consumer Associations (CACQ), the elected representatives of the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the National Council of the Unemployed (CNC) all deplore this situation with sometimes catastrophic financial consequences. Some borrow at high rates, others use their line of credit to the maximum. Debt ratios jump, so credit ratings plummet.
What is most astounding are the desperate suggestions of Service Canada employees to the unemployed who insist that their file be completed more quickly.
Some applicants have been “strongly invited” to sell their property, such as furniture or their car, so that their case is considered urgent, denounces the CACQ, which questions the ethics of this “advice”.
When I heard that, my ears curled. I found that quite appalling. Even a bankruptcy trustee doesn’t do that. He doesn’t ask people if they’ve sold their fridge.
Élaine Guilbault, director of the ACEF de la Péninsule, in Gaspésie, and vice-president of the CACQ
Service Canada agents give priority to people who are in serious financial trouble using a grid allowing them to prioritize requests. Exactly as it is done in the emergency room of a hospital, explains the spokesman of the CNC, Pierre Céré.
“The person on the other end of the line has to understand that the situation is really critical and there you have priority. We have to demonstrate that we are almost at the level of indigence. That’s how they work right now and that’s unheard of. It is beyond me, ”laments the man who has worked in the industry since 1979.
In Ottawa, we ensure that all requests are processed “according to the date of receipt, regardless of their complexity or location”.
That’s not all. “Service Canada tells people to call their MP’s office to get things moving. So they call our offices and it overflows, ”says Jean-Denis Garon, Bloc Québécois MP in Mirabel.
Like consumer protection associations, MPs’ offices have access to a priority line with employment insurance. In short, since the emergency rooms are overloaded, the nurse at the triage suggests that the patients go through the back door to consult other nurses who do triage. Find the mistake.
So far, no fewer than 4,000 people have asked their Bloc Québécois MP for help to unblock their file. Just imagine the extent of the phenomenon from one end of the country to the other.
“When a person loses his job and finds himself between two chairs, even if the unemployment rate is low, he needs his benefit in the most sacred way,” says Jean-Denis Garon.
According to information obtained by the NDP, the fraud that occurred three years ago at Desjardins “explains about 10,000 cases of processing delays”… alone.
In fact, the CACQ, the CNC and the deputies note that many files must be transferred to the compliance department (also called integrity) in order to ensure the legitimacy of the request. This step lengthens the process a lot. Deputy Garon is also demanding that payments be made pending the usual verifications.
At the end of April, Jean-Denis Garon denounced Service Canada’s way of working on Facebook. Some of his colleagues had done the same at the beginning of the winter. The CNC issued a press release on the subject in January. But nothing seems to move. On the contrary, the deadlines are getting longer, according to the CNC.
The Bloc Québécois and the NDP are calling on Ottawa to increase the staff dedicated to employment insurance in order to clear the backlog of claims and return to the normal 28-day deadline. This is all the more urgent in an inflationary environment.
“These unacceptable EI delays are even more frustrating for people and deepening the affordability crisis. Alas, the Liberals pretend to be concerned about people’s financial stress,” laments NDP MP and employment insurance critic Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood–Transcona).
The office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough has not told me whether any steps have been taken to improve the situation. Instead, I was told that, over the past year, Service Canada has processed 85.4% of applications in 28 days. And that the others are, “in the majority”, in the following two weeks.
“If you don’t really know that, it seems to be going well,” comments Pierre Céré. But in reality, he observes, “it’s hell for many people.”