'Maxed out my savings': Some Canadians are waiting months for employment insurance cheques
Teffal Mohamed Amine has given up hope on ever buying a home.
"I've completely maxed out my savings and credit card that were supposed to be used for a house," he tells CTV News. "I've literally had to go without food for lack of money at times, especially recently."
The software engineer was laid off from his job in December 2022.
"I was on probation and a lot of people, including myself, were let go for lack of budget," he explained, adding he's been on employment insurance (EI) ever since -- but has yet to receive a single cent.
"It's been almost seven months since I was supposed to receive the money I'm owed," he lamented. "It's extremely frustrating, especially given that I've done everything I could to speed up the process. It's an unacceptable delay for this kind of essential service for unemployed people."
Employment and Social Development Canada says its standard is to finalize 80 per cent of EI claims within 28 days of receiving an application.
"From April to September 2023, Service Canada processed 84.5 per cent of EI claims within 28 days," said Samuelle Carbonneau, a media relations officer with Employment and Social Development Canada. "For claims not completed within 28 days, the average processing time is between 29 and 35 days."
The department notes so far this year, the average number of days it has taken for someone to receive their first EI benefit payment was 19 days, compared to an average of 26 days over the same period in 2022-23.
Amine says he's tried to be proactive to have his file processed, including calling Service Canada several times.
"I asked them if it was possible to speed up the process, knowing how long I was waiting," he said.
The Montrealer says he never got a straight answer from any of the agents he spoke to.
"Some agents told me that it was normal and that it was the time it takes to process a file, and others told me that it was because of the high volume of applications," he tells CTV News. "Each agent told me something different; three different agents gave me dates it would take -- one week, three days, two weeks -- and they were all wrong. None of the agents really had the answer and had absolutely no idea what to do in my case."
He says the delays have caused more than just an inconvenience.
"They seem completely out of touch with people's basic needs," Amine said. "I find it absolutely disturbing that they don't assume responsibility at all. Seven months is an absolutely unacceptable delay, whatever the case."
NOT THE ONLY ONE
Amine's story is not unique, according to Gabriel Pelletier, a lawyer with Comité Chômage de Montréal, an organization that defends the rights of unemployed people.
"It's ridiculous because when you apply for EI, you apply to a program in which you contribute on every paycheque," he said. "It's something that you have a right to."
Pelletier says two-thirds of the files currently on his desk are due to exorbitant delays, and some of his clients resort to extremes in order to continue putting food on the table.
"What I usually get as an answer is either they remortgage, if they have a mortgage. If they don't have a mortgage, they are going to open new credit cards, they're going to get some credit margins, they're going to load existing credit cards," said Pelletier. "Some of them have to ask friends and families for help."
Others, he says, turn to welfare.
"They call welfare, and welfare is going to talk to them, 'Did you ask for EI? Are you eligible for EI?'" he said. "They're going to say, 'Yes, but I haven't had it for months. I'm all out of money. I can't remortgage. I can't go for credit.' So in those cases, welfare will sometime accept... but that's not what that system is for, and it's really absurd."
In extreme cases, Pelletier says people have been expulsed from their homes because they could not make their payments.
This was the situation Jennifer Cytrynbaum says she could have found herself in.
The 53-year-old was forced to apply for employment insurance after she was dismissed from her position "without cause or any warning."
She says she only received her EI payments after the Comité Chômage de Montréal got involved in her case.
"I waited six months with no news or update as to the status of my file," she said, adding she unsuccessfully contacted Service Canada numerous times. "Within about a week [of contacting the Comité Chômage de Montréal], my file was settled and I was paid."
She says the experience was beyond frustrating: "I was desperate."
"I have been living entirely on credit, and making my mortgage payments were a source of complete anxiety," she told CTV News.
Pelletier argues the government needs to act immediately to solve this crisis -- or pay for it further down the line.
"People losing their homes, people remortgaging, people raising their credit card limits," he lists. "That's going to turn out to be the government's problem eventually either way, so might as well just settle it now."
WHAT'S THE HOLD-UP?
Carbonneau states there are three main reasons for some claims to take longer to process:
1) Missing information or documents;
2) Files are referred to integrity for investigation (dormant SIN, potential fraud, failed validation, inconsistent information) or
3) Additional fact-finding is required for a decision in more complex cases.
According to the department, the EI program receives 40,000 claim applications per week, with that number doubling during summer and winter peak periods.
"These claim increases are normal and associated with claimants who mainly work in the school-related industry and/or who occupy seasonal employment," Carbonneau explains. "During these periods, some clients may experience longer delays in the processing of their claims, and wait times may be longer at the call centre."
As of Oct. 28, Employment and Social Development Canada says 1,641,209 new and renewed EI applications have been received in addition to those already in progress.
Of that larger total, 1,642,311 files have been processed.
"Claimants who are facing severe financial hardship and have urgent needs should contact the EI Call Centre for assistance in reviewing their situation," the department notes.
Anyone requiring assistance is encouraged to check out the following service:
- Information about EI benefits and leave.
New applicants to EI should create a My Service Canada Account (MSCA) to:
- View and update information for EI and other Service Canada benefits;
- Access EI Tax Slips (T4Es) and itemized statements; and
- Verify the status of a claim.
The department says anyone waiting for an extended period of time for their money should ensure that they have submitted all the information and documents required and have received their access code to complete their bi-weekly reports.
If all else fails, they should contact Service Canada for assistance.
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