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Opposition grills Alberta government on ‘broken’ emergency isolation funding program

Click to play video: 'Many struggle to access Alberta’s isolation benefit' Many struggle to access Alberta’s isolation benefit
WATCH ABOVE: The province says as of Monday, 29,000 applications for Alberta's isolation benefit have been processed. But as Sarah Ryan explains, some are calling the process a nightmare because they haven't been able to get through the overwhelmed system – Mar 30, 2020

The official Opposition is calling on the Alberta government to immediately fix its emergency isolation funding website after hearing from many people who haven’t been able to apply for the payment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Wednesday, the government launched a website for eligible Albertans to begin applying online for emergency bridge funding. Applicants must have been diagnosed with COVID-19, directed by health authorities to self-isolate, or be caring for a dependent who is self-isolating.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta emergency isolation support website offline due to ‘high volume of traffic’

Once their identity and eligibility is confirmed, they will be e-transferred a one-time payment of $1,146, which is intended to tide them over until enhanced federal employment aid becomes available this month.

Since the provincial website launched, the Opposition NDP said it has been flooded with messages from Albertans who have not been able to get through the application process, let alone receive the funding.

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“The premier’s emergency isolation support is broken,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said in question period Wednesday afternoon.

“Thousands of people can’t apply and thousands more are being rejected. The premier promised to bridge the gap but instead he’s walking Albertans to the edge and then telling them that the bridge is out.

“Albertans are asking for help. Why is the premier not offering that help?”

READ MORE: ‘The help is really useless’: Albertans frustrated by overwhelmed isolation benefit program

Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray said her constituency email and Facebook inboxes have also been filled with messages from worried Albertans.

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“Albertans are desperate at this point. The provincial government has an important role to play in making sure that Albertans have the finances to continue to be able to buy food, to pay the bills that they can’t get deferred,” she said.

“We still have a lot of Albertans who are in crisis and asking them to wait for the federal program to come online… is not acceptable and a lot of Albertans are reaching out to the Opposition and government MLAs with concerns, with problems not being able to get verified, not being able to access the website.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta financial support applications temporarily paused due to high demand' Alberta financial support applications temporarily paused due to high demand
Alberta financial support applications temporarily paused due to high demand – Mar 26, 2020

In question period Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney said more than 40,000 Albertans have been able to access the one-time payment of $1,146. He said that totals more than the $50 million budgeted for the emergency funding.

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“Ours was the first province in Canada to act with emergency support payments,” the premier said.

“The federal government has announced extraordinary employment insurance benefits, including for those who have been laid off because of COVID and those payments will be available within five days… Our system will continue to try to process those applications as quickly as we can.

“It is unfortunate the Opposition leader is attacking our public servants who are doing their best under trying circumstances to get these payments processed.”

READ MORE: Trudeau planning to recall Parliament to approve more emergency coronavirus measures

In a statement later Wednesday, the press secretary to the minister of Service Alberta said the province had processed 58,000 applications to date.

“The site does continue to experience stresses with high volumes never intended for the longstanding system used, and as such may go down at times,” Tricia Velthuizen said.

“Albertans are encouraged to check on the site periodically throughout the day.”

Notley said she will continue to hold the government to account for the “thousands and thousands of Albertans who can’t get this support.

“Forty-thousand is one per cent of the province, and many, many more people are asking for it,” she said.

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The province confirmed the program will continue until federal financial assistance is in place.

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