Coronavirus: Here’s how to apply for EI and the new COVID-19 emergency benefit

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EDITOR’S NOTE: March 26, 2020 – The federal government has announced a new benefit to help Canadians struggling from the economic impact of COVID-19. For more on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit click here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a sweeping economic aid package to help Canadians impacted by the new coronavirus pandemic, including direct financial support for workers who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for employment insurance benefits.

The new measures, which still need to be approved by Parliament, would create an emergency care benefit for workers who are in quarantine or asked to self-isolate at home due to COVID-19 and don’t get paid sick leave.

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READ MORE: Trudeau unveils $82B in aid for families, business amid coronavirus uncertainty

They also include billions in additional funding for those who are laid off or face reduced work hours because of the virus.

“Canadians should not make health decisions based on their financial needs,” Trudeau said Wednesday. “No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time when you should be focused on your health and that of your neighbours, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication.”

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While the emergency benefits won’t be rolled out until the coming weeks, here’s a look at how they’ll work.

How to apply for the new EI sickness benefits

An image of the process for applying to EI. (Employment and Social Development Canada).

Under the new rules, Canadians who have been asked to self-isolate or quarantine can apply for EI without a medical certificate, as would normally be required along with employment records.

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Workers who can’t apply because they are sick or quarantined, can also file for EI sickness benefits at a later date and have the claim backdated.

Anyone looking to apply for the new EI benefits, can visit the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) website and follow the five steps.

  1. Gather supporting documents – You must have your records of employment (ROEs), but a medical certificate won’t be necessary for those who have been asked to self-isolate or quarantine. Service Canada advises people to apply right away even if you don’t have these documents as you can send them in later.
  2. Complete the online application– This includes making sure you have: the names and addresses of your employers in the last 52 weeks, the dates employed with each employer and the reasons you’re no longer employed, and personal information including mailing address, Social Insurance Number (SIN), and banking information.
  3. Provide supporting documents- You can visit My Service Canada Account (MSCA) to view ROEs that have been issued to you by past and current employers.
  4. Receive access code by mail – Service Canada will mail you a benefit statement, which includes a 4-digit access code. You need this code and your SIN to get updates about your application and to complete biweekly reports.
  5. Review your application status

However, the website already appears to be overwhelmed by the number of applications.

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“We are currently receiving a high number of EI applications,” the website reads. “If you are unable to access the system, or if you receive an error message, please try again later. We are aware of this issue and are working to resolve it. Thank you for your patience.”

Jennifer Robson, associate professor of political management at Carleton University, said it’s important Ottawa provides more resources to handle the call volumes and internet traffic.

“You don’t want people applying for benefits, getting frustrated and then giving up,” she said. “Even if they can’t hire new people are they reallocating people to keep up with demand?”

Global News has reached out to ESDC with questions about how the government is working to resolve the backlog of applications but has not yet received a response.

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Workers can also now have the one-week waiting period waived by calling 1-833-381-2725. People can also apply in person at a Service Canada location, but the government is advising those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to remain at home.

Generally, EI is based on the number of hours worked in the last 52 weeks and the maximum amount paid out for EI is $573 a week. Under Wednesday’s announcement, EI sickness benefits include being unable to work due to illness or quarantine.

What about Canadians who don’t qualify for EI?

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Coronavirus outbreak: What the government’s financial aid package means for workers

The economic aid package includes the emergency care benefit, which would give up to $900 every two weeks for up to 15 weeks to those who don’t qualify for EI but have been sickened by COVID-19, are in quarantine or have to stay at home to care for children or other family members.

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Canadians can apply for the emergency care benefit by going to the Canada Revenue Agency MyAccount secure portal, or through a My Service Canada account, or by calling a toll-free number that has not yet been announced.

Registration for this benefit is not yet open.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. border closure rules still being worked out

Robson said the new federal measures to help workers are not perfect but they’re a “good start.”

“And right now we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good,” she said. “[Ottawa] has been very quick to develop this… it’s multipronged, it’s not just one program. It can actually hit multiple groups who might need different things.”

Ottawa is also planning to temporarily boost Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payments this year by $300 a child beginning in May.

READ MORE: Latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic

Trudeau also announced a one-time special payment by early May through the goods and services tax credit to more than 12 million lower income families.

The average boost to income from this measure is expected to be nearly $400 for single people and almost $600 for couples, according to the government’s projections.

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