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'It was supposed to be simple': Delay in B.C. Recovery Benefit continues to frustrate applicants

Last Updated Jan 8, 2021 at 12:07 am PDT

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Summary

Over a million people have received the one-time payment, but those who haven't can't figure out why

Some in this province are frustrated that the NDP's promise of cash by Christmas was not kept

The Ministry of Finance can not provide updates on individual applications, leaving some in limbo

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Frustration continues for some British Columbians trying to claim the province’s recovery benefit — they haven’t seen deposits in their bank accounts, they can’t figure out why, and no one is giving them answers.

Ben Thind is one person whose application is in limbo. He was laid off when the pandemic hit, is currently surviving on Employment Insurance, and he’s behind on his rent.

Thind was counting on the one-time payment by Christmas, or at least by the first week of 2021.

“I know it might just be 500 bucks for some people, but I mean for other people it is a lot of money at the moment,” he says.

“I could use every dollar I can get at the moment. It’s difficult, especially when you’re anticipating that money and there’s no one there to actually give you any update on what’s going on, what’s the status of this. We’re kind of in the dark here.”

Like others, he was asked to submit additional documentation — which he did on Dec. 21. By Dec. 27 he followed up with a phone call, and learned one of the documents had not been received.

Since then, calling the phone line hasn’t helped him get any answers.

“They said that they didn’t have access to that information, all they could simply see was that it was submitted successfully and it’s being processed.”

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After technical frustrations on the first day, claiming the one-time payment of up to $1,000 per family has been quick and easy for many.

In November, shortly before cabinet was sworn in, Premier John Horgan reiterated his hope cash would make it into people’s bank accounts by Christmas.

“We’re targeting Christmas, of course. I think British Columbians will just be happy to have access to a thousand bucks for their families or 500 bucks for individuals whether it comes on Dec. 24 or it comes on the fifth of January,” he said.

Cash did — as promised — flow into hundreds of thousands of people’s bank accounts by Christmas.

According to the Ministry of Finance, 981,2000 applications have been approved since the program launched Dec. 18. That means $552 million has been given out to 1.28 million individuals.

“Agents are working as quickly as possible to ensure applications are approved and people receive the benefit,” a statement from a spokesperson reads.

“Due to the high volume of applications, at this time we cannot provide a specific update on when your application will be completed.”

‘I don’t even know if they themselves knew whether they’d be able to make that tight of a deadline’

Thind thinks the NDP shouldn’t have suggested people would see the money by a particular date unless they knew it was a promise they could keep for everyone.

“The timeframe in which they were striving to get this money, it kind of gave us that optimism That extra 500 could go a long way for some of us. I don’t even know if they themselves knew whether they’d be able to make that tight of a deadline,” he says.

“You guys are putting resources into setting up this phone line and kind of setting up this image that you guys are here, and it’s a properly set up program for the people to help them through the pandemic when it’s actually causing distress — chasing this down, not knowing who to contact, and not understanding what’s going on with the situation.”

Thind says after talking to people online and off, he’s noticed people either received the money within days of applying or are still waiting.

In particular, he says people like him who were asked to provide additional documentation have been left hanging.

“No one’s application has been processed. It begs the question whether they are even being processed, or if anyone is even looking at these applications at the moment. We’re kind of in the dark here.”

Paul Fong is also wondering why he’s still waiting while his friends and family got the money without delay.

“I know people that applied after me and got it literally like three days after. I have friends and family that have gotten it, but also I’ve heard from a lot of people that are in basically the same situation as me, that have not gotten it. Basically, they say they haven’t heard anything,” he says.

Unlike Thind, he wasn’t asked to submit any extra documents.

Trying to follow up by phone has also been discouraging for Fong.

“I was finally able to get through to them today after being on hold for half an hour and basically explained the situation,” he says.

“They said, ‘Just wait, they’re working on it.’ But they never even asked me for my application number or confirmation number, so they didn’t really no who they were talking to. It was a very generic response.”

Fong says he wasn’t relying on the money to buy groceries or pay rent — but he resents the unkept promise nonetheless.

“I’m doing okay but just the fact that they offered something, they said ‘We’re gonna do this for B.C. residents,’ he explains.

“It is frustrating because there are some bills I want to pay off, that would be nice.”