EI benefits delayed for thousands of Canadians

The last few months have been trying for Martin Courtemanche. After suffering from depression last summer, he quit his job on December 6, 2021. What followed, he says, was a “hellish spiral”.

“I’m at the end of my rope,” he said.

More than six months have passed since he filed his EI claim and he still hasn’t received a payment.

“I have to wonder how I’m going to pay my rent, my groceries,” he said. “I’m lucky to have savings. I maxed out my credit cards. That’s how we manage to survive.”

At a time when Service Canada is mired in the hassle of processing passports, delays in obtaining employment insurance are also increasing. Many unemployed people report not having received a penny, several months after filing a claim.

The Service Canada representatives who spoke to Courtemanche first explained to her that the pandemic was the cause of the delays, before letting her know that there was one document missing from her file: a letter of termination of employment.

“I ended the call and just wanted to cry,” he said. “It wasn’t progressing and I didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Delays for thousands of Canadians

Courtemanche finally turned to the Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal. The organization tried to help him and confirmed that he was not the only one in this situation.

“It’s chaos,” said Pierre Céré, spokesman for the National Council of the Unemployed and Unemployed, who has worked in the field for nearly 40 years.

“Delays have always been part of [of the equation]”, he added. “The bureaucracy is complicated, we do not always understand why, but here it takes on extravagant proportions.”

The Department of Employment and Social Development says as of June 18, 128,739 claims for Employment Insurance benefits were pending. From April 1 to May 31, the majority of them – 71.8% – were settled in less than 28 days.

But for more than 20,000 Canadians, the time to receive a first payment exceeds three months, according to data obtained by the Bloc Québécois through an access to information request.

“Is there a lack of resources? Maybe. What is clear is that the files are not being processed in time,” Céré said.

Karina Gould, Minister of Children, Families and Social Development and head of Service Canada, says more complex cases require verification and many cases of identity theft have slowed down the process.

“The situation in Quebec in particular is the result of fraud in the private sector,” she told Radio-Canada.

The challenges of teleworking

Judith Côté, national vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, an organization that represents thousands of public servants, says staffing shortages are not a problem.

“We have never had as many employees as we have now at Service Canada, and yet I think we have rarely been so inefficient,” she said.

Some employees are also called upon to support colleagues from other public service departments.

“We’ve all received an email asking if we have any passport experience to lend a hand,” Côté said, referring to the long lines of travelers anxiously waiting for their passports.

“The employees work very hard,” she said. “We have never worked so much overtime.”

Service Canada has told Courtemanche over the past few days that her EI claim has been processed and accepted. He recently got a job, but he is still waiting for the thousands of dollars owed to him.

“I have no intention of letting go [the job] go back to see my friends from employment insurance,” he laughs.