Jobless irked by delays in getting EI cheques

Posted on December 19, 2008 in Debates, Social Security Debates – National – Jobless irked by delays in getting EI cheques: Standard is still to send payments within 28 days, federal official says as newly laid-off Canadians wait as many as 40 days for relief
December 19, 2008. GLORIA GALLOWAY

OTTAWA — Complaints are being received from the newly jobless that they are being told they must wait longer than the usual 28 days to receive any assistance from the employment insurance program.

That means workers who are handed pink slips next week may not receive their first cheque until early February.

A spokeswoman for Service Canada – the one-stop agency that is the interface between the federal government and Canadians – said that, during the second week of December, 82.3 per cent of EI claims were processed within 28 days.

But when The Globe and Mail called Service Canada yesterday, the worker answering the phone said the time required to process EI applications had stretched from 28 to 40 days.

The call from The Globe was prompted by complaints by unemployed workers who had received the same response, that the processing of their benefits claims was being delayed.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, whose department administers EI, denies there have been delays in getting money to the swelling ranks of Canadians whose jobs have been lost in the economic downturn.

“I can confirm that our service standard for processing claims has not changed,” Julie Vaux, a spokeswoman for Ms. Finley, wrote in an e-mail. “The service standard for EI processing is to pay claimants within 28 days of receipt of their application 80 per cent of the time, because we do sometimes experience delays in meeting our speed of pay standard during winter and summer peak periods when we have significant increases in seasonal unemployment, unanticipated spikes in demand, or when we have particularly complex cases that require fact finding with employers and claimants.”

However, Laurell Ritchie, an EI expert at the Canadian Auto Workers union, said it has been years since she received complaints about the timeliness processing EI claims, but that has changed in recent weeks.

Ms. Ritchie, who said the U.S. standard is to process 90 per cent of claims within 28 days, said national figures in Canada don’t reflect the slow pace of delivering the benefits in many regions.

“I do think that this is an emerging story,” Ms. Ritchie said.

Opposition members and economists have said that one way to stimulate the economy would be to eliminate the two-week period that unemployed workers must wait before they become eligible for EI benefits.

Under normal circumstance, it takes an additional two weeks beyond that waiting period for a first cheque to arrive.

But Mike Savage, a Liberal MP from Nova Scotia who is his party’s Human Resources critic, said laid-off workers are complaining to his office that Service Canada is telling them they must wait nearly six weeks before receiving benefits.

Mr. Savage pointed out that eliminating the two-week waiting period was one of the policies written into the agreement that formed the basis for a possible coalition between the Liberals and the NDP.

Tony Martin, the NDP critic for Human Resources, said the government has cut back staff and restructured to the point that it simply can’t cope with the large influx of applications.

With a report from Daniel Leblanc

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