With the unemployment rate at an all-time low, Ottawa is certainly not overrun with employment insurance claims. However, the delays in getting an initial payment can be up to four or even five months.
Posted at 6.30am
Remember how fast it was two years ago to claim CERB – even fraudulently. The system, while very new and made in record time, was effective. A few mouse clicks and the check was in the mail.
Getting employment insurance is a different story.
In many cases the waiting time is now counted in months. It is 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) deplore this situation with sometimes catastrophic financial consequences. Some borrow at high rates, others use their credit line to the maximum. Debt ratios jump, so credit plummets.
Most astonishing are the desperate suggestions from 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, the CACQ denounced, which questions the ethics of this “advice”.
My ears curled when I heard that. I found that quite shocking. Not even a curator does that. He doesn’t ask people if they sold their refrigerator.
Élaine Guilbault, Director of the ACEF de la Péninsule, in Gaspésie, and Vice-President of the CACQ
Service Canada agents prioritize those in serious financial distress using a grid that allows them to prioritize requests. Exactly as it happens in the emergency room of a hospital, explains CNC spokesman Pierre Céré.
“The person on the other end of the line has to understand that the situation is really critical and that’s where you have priority. We have to show that we are almost at the level of neediness. That’s how they work now and that’s unheard of. It’s beyond me,” laments the man who has worked in the industry since 1979.
In Ottawa, we ensure that all requests are processed “as per the date of receipt, regardless of their complexity or location”.
That’s not all. “Service Canada is telling people to call their MP’s office to get things moving. So they call our offices and it overflows,” said Jean-Denis Garon, Member of Parliament from Bloc Québécois in Mirabel.
Like consumer protection associations, MPs’ offices have access to a priority line with employment insurance. Basically, because the emergency room is overcrowded, the triage nurse suggests that the patients enter through the back door to consult other nurses who do triage. Find the error.
So far, no less than 4,000 people have asked their Bloc Québécois MP for help to unblock their file. Just imagine the magnitude of the phenomenon from one end of the country to the other.
“If a person loses his job and finds himself between two chairs, even when unemployment is low, he needs his benefit most sacredly,” says Jean-Denis Garon.
According to information obtained by the NDP, the fraud that took place at Desjardins three years ago explains “about 10,000 cases of processing delays”… alone.
The CACQ, the CNC and the commissioners note that many files have to be transferred to the compliance department (also known as integrity) in order to guarantee the legality of the request. This step lengthens the process considerably. Deputy Garon also demands that payments be made pending the usual verifications.
At the end of April, Jean-Denis Garon denounced the way Service Canada works on Facebook. Some of his colleagues had done the same at the beginning of 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, says the CNC.
The Bloc Québécois and the NDP are calling on Ottawa to hire more labor insurance staff to clear the claims backlog 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 exacerbating the affordability crisis. Unfortunately, liberals pretend to be concerned about people’s financial stress,” laments NDP MP and labor insurance critic Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood–Transcona).
The office of Labor Secretary Carla Qualtrough has not told me if steps have been taken to improve the situation. Instead, I was told that Service Canada processed 85.4% of requests in 28 days in the past year. And that the others will be “in the majority” for the next two weeks.
“If you don’t really know that, it seems to be going well,” says Pierre Céré. But in reality, he notes, “it’s hell for a lot of people.”