But in the two-tiered CERB system set up by Ottawa — where applicants can access the benefit both through the traditional Employment Insurance (EI) system and through a Canada Revenue Agency portal — some have become stuck in payments limbo.
In Whitby, Ont., Julie Frost applied for regular employment insurance in late March before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of CERB. The government has automatically processed her claim through CERB, resulting in an initial payment of $2,000 for the first four weeks of unemployment.
But Frost, an educational assistant, said she hasn’t been able to receive follow-up payments because the government has yet to process her first EI bi-weekly report.
“It’s extremely worrisome,” said Frost, who added she’s concerned about not being able to afford basic expenses.
The CERB provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to 16 weeks to Canadians who have lost all or most of their incomes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Those who applied for the CERB through the CRA are required to re-apply for the benefit once for each 4-week period. But those who have signed up through the EI system, like Frost, must submit bi-weekly reports confirming they are still eligible for the income support, just as they normally would continue to receive EI.
The problem with Frost and others in her situation is that they can’t submit a second bi-weekly report until the first one has been processed.
Frost said she has a second job as a self-employed respite care provider.
“I have to call someone from EI to explain that,” she said.
But speaking to a Service Canada agent has been impossible, Frost said.
A message from the Internet Reporting Service that Frost used to submit her first EI report account advises her to call a representative at 1-800-531-7555. But Frost said she has never been able to get through to an agent.
Frost’s account is similar to that of other Canadians who have spoken with Global News or taken to social media to flag the issue.
Port Dover, Ont., resident Arthur Jake Patterson, who recently lost his job as a cook, said he and many of his co-workers are facing the same issue. They wonder what they did wrong when others who also applied through EI received more than $2,000 in the span of days.
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) previously told Global News that “Canadians who apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit through Service Canada and the Employment Insurance program and meet the eligibility requirements, will receive an initial payment of $2,000. They will then be paid $1,000 every two weeks based on their biweekly reports submitted.”
Global News has spoken to some CERB applicants who said they’d received $3,500 within days after Ottawa rolled out the benefit on April 6.
When asked about EI applicants who are facing delays with the processing of bi-weekly reports, ESDC said that as of April 9, it has updated EI systems to no longer display the message that prompted clients to call Service Canada.
It is unclear, however, what this means for those like Frost and Patterson, whose predicament predates the government’s fix.
“Further analysis is ongoing to address any outstanding cases that may have been held due to this issue,” ESDC told Global News via email.
The government also said Service Canada has established a new 1,500-agent call centre devoted to inquiries about the CERB, as its traditional EI call centre faces an “unprecedented” volume of calls.
Those who have already applied to the CERB via EI and want to ask additional questions can reach an agent at 1-833-699-0299, ESDC told Global News.
Frost said that was the only government number she tried that led her to speak to a human being. The representative, however, simply told her to “plug-in your phone and keep trying” to reach the original EI number she’d been trying.
In the meantime, Frost said, her bills keep coming in.