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‘It’s a nightmare’: Canadians struggle to renew benefits amid pandemic

Last Updated Apr 21, 2020 at 8:22 am PDT

(iStock Photo)

Many Canadians who are receiving benefits amid the pandemic say they're struggling to renew in time for May 1

A number of people say they were approved for EI, transferred to the CERB system, and are unable to get through by phone

Those NEWS 1130 has spoken with say the online forms ask them to call a 1-800 number, through which calls are dropped

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As the prime minister is expected to announce more help for Canadians impacted by COVID-19, many of those who are already receiving benefits are struggling to renew in time for the next round of payments.

Every day, Tracey Melton, who lost her job in film in mid-March, sits on hold with the Employment Insurance office.

“And then I eventually get disconnected,” she tells NEWS 1130. “It’s a nightmare. I get up at 7 in the morning, and I call and as soon as I call, it rings a busy signal until about 1:30-ish. After that, I can get through, I follow all the steps, I put my Social Insurance number in, my access code, and I hit the button to speak to a representative, where I am placed on hold for hours. And then I eventually get disconnected.”

Despite how frustrating that might be, Melton has been having more luck than Nicholas Yee, who was laid off from his job as an education coordinator at Richmond theatre, weeks ago.

“No matter what I did, I just kept on getting that same message popping up: ‘Your previous report has not been processed. Please call this number,'” he explains. “Every day that I’ve been trying to call, I just keep on getting a busy signal. It just goes straight to busy and hangs up.”

Both applied for EI and received initial payments from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. They were also told their files were “transferred” to the new federal emergency program.

However, online, a number of people’s EI applications are incomplete and unprocessed. As far as they can tell, they won’t be getting more money until they can through to a real person.

Yee and others who have applied for EI have been told to speak to someone at Employment Insurance, even though they’re now under the CERB.

Melton says it’s all getting to be a bit much.

“We have responsibilities that take place every month, and, well, the 1st is coming up. I need to know where I stand,” she says, adding a government officer called her back, but was unable to help.

“She was able to tell me that my claim had been switched over to the relief benefit because I did apply March 15th for my EI benefits. She was able to tell me that the waiting period had been waived, and that I would be receiving a $500 payment for the week of March 15 to the 21st, and she said to continue to do my reports as I usually would, however, I can’t get in because once I put in my Social Insurance number, my access code, I hit continue, a warning pops up and it says that I need to call the 1-800 number and speak to a representative, which is impossible to do.”‘

No matter what she’s done, she’s always been sent back to the same place, with no resolve.

Melton’s last day of work was March 13. She has not been making an income since.

“I’ve been rationing my last two final paycheques, which they are getting low, I’m still trying to pay my bills,” she says, adding she’ll likely not have enough to cover her May rent, as well as the accompanying bills.

Despite the uncertainty, Melton says she’s not letting herself stress out — too much.

“If I don’t have anything in my account for the 1st of the month, OK, I will stress out about it,” she says. “I know that my landlady will be OK with it, but we’ve been in the same condo for 11 years, she doesn’t deserve this. No landlord does because they have responsibilities as well as we do.”

NEWS 1130 has reached out to the Ministry Social Development for clarity on what people should do if they cannot reach a representative in time, we have not received a response.