EI claimants are going weeks without income as federal call system slows to a crawl
There were times this month when Miranda Petrossi and her boyfriend were working four phones at once — calling Service Canada’s employment insurance information line over and over, for hours on end, desperately trying to find someone who could tell her why her EI application had been denied after she lost her job due to the pandemic.
Petrossi is one of many Canadians who have gone weeks without benefits because of problems with their EI applications — problems they’re struggling to sort out now because they can’t get anyone on the phone.
“I haven’t had a paycheque since March 15,” said Petrossi, who worked as an early childhood educator for the YMCA in Oakville, Ont., until COVID-19 shut it down. “I potentially may not have a job until September and I don’t know how much longer I can continue going like this.”
Most of the Canadians caught in this situation applied for EI because they were laid off before the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was announced on March 25, or because they were under the impression that EI applications would be shifted over to the CERB program anyway.
And they’ve been told they can’t simply drop their EI applications now and apply for CERB instead.The government did not answer CBC’s questions about how widespread the problem of EI snafus is — or how jammed-up phone lines are making the situation worse. But social media sites are full of posts from people voicing similar complaints and CBC itself has received dozens of emails about the problem.
Many of those reports are from people complaining of constant busy signals on the EI line, which is getting swamped by thousands of calls from anxious, unemployed Canadians. Others describe getting past a marathon of menu options and inputting their social insurance numbers — only to be told to call back later because call volumes are too high.
“I can’t believe that they’re only open regular business hours … from 8:30 to 4:30. It was shocking to me,” said Jason Shewchuk, who works in film production in Vancouver.
Since the online EI application did not mention the pandemic, Shewchuk listed “other” as the reason he was out of work. His application generated an automated reply from Service Canada telling him to call a 1-800 number and provide more information.
Ten days and more than 1,700 calls later (his phone kept a tally), he finally got through around 2 p.m. late last week.
“It kicked me through and I stared hearing the elevator music,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I’m in. This is awesome.'”
Then he heard an automated message telling him the wait would be more than two hours. He ended up staying on the line until the call centre shut down for the day.
One step forward, two weeks back
He got through again the next day (57 redials, two and a half hours on hold). The agent he spoke to was able to figure out the problem with his application — and told him the revised application would have to be processed all over again.
Service Canada is telling him he should get his first payment roughly within two weeks. If not, it’s back to phone queue hell.
Karina Roman CBC