A Coronavirus ‘double-whammy’: Unemployed mother of 2 is denied both EI and CERB

Click to play video 'Mother who paid into EI denied benefits during coronavirus pandemic' Mother who paid into EI denied benefits during coronavirus pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: She paid Employment Insurance benefits, had a child and then lost her job. Alysha Vanderhart of Caledon, Ont., expected to receive benefits but has been twice denied. As Sean O'Shea reports, Vanderhart says she's being penalized because her father is also her employer.

A double-whammy.

That’s one way to describe what a mother of two in Caledon, Ont., is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alysha Vanderhart is out of work because the company that employed her has closed its doors for the time being.

Yet in addition to losing her employment, at least for now, she said she has twice been denied federal employment benefits recently — even though she paid insurance premiums.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Nearly 1 million Canadians applied for EI last week

“It’s been really stressful. It’s been hard to pay some bills,” Alysha told Global News in an interview.

Unlike hundreds of thousands of other Canadians, Alysha said she has been unable to collect either employment insurance benefits (EI) or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, commonly known as CERB.

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“Nobody in our family ever went on welfare, unemployment or anything like that,” said Todd Vanderhart, her father, who also happens to be her employer.

And that’s the problem.

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

The company she works for, Classifier Milling Systems Corp. of Brampton, is owned by her dad. By law, her dad’s company had to close during the COVID-19 pandemic because it is considered a non-essential service.

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“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon,” said Corinne Pohlmann, vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, referring to employment insurance denials for family members. The CFIB says family businesses should obtain a ruling from Employment and Social Development Canada regarding the employed family member’s eligibility for EI benefits.

“We constantly try to remind business owners that if you have family members in the business and you want them to be insurable, they need to get a ruling to make sure,” Pohlmann told Global News.

The CFIB estimates about four out of 10 small businesses in Canada employ one or more family members.

In some circumstances, a family member of an employee would qualify for coverage. If not, the ruling allows business owners and their family employees to stop contributing to employment insurance benefits.

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READ MORE: Emergency coronavirus benefit could be a model for future aid programs, minister says

Last year, when Alysha had her second child, she attempted to secure maternity benefits from the government but could not get a straight answer, she said.

“We continuously called them, monthly, but no one would return our calls,” Todd said.

Click to play video 'Moncton woman says she couldn’t get Canada Emergency Response Benefit' Moncton woman says she couldn’t get Canada Emergency Response Benefit
Moncton woman says she couldn’t get Canada Emergency Response Benefit

Then recently, Alysha said she received bad news from a government representative when she attempted to obtain benefits after losing her employment.

“They said I wasn’t working for the past year, but that’s because I was supposed to be off on maternity leave, so now they are denying me both.”

“It is a bit of a double-whammy in that particular circumstance, and I do feel for them because it’s not easy to get through all this bureaucracy the government puts in front of workers,” Pohlmann said.

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Global News contacted the office the minister of Employment and Social Development Canada, Ahmed Hussen, to find out why Vanderhart had been denied. Four days later, a media spokesperson promised a response but claimed the ministry’s offices were “swamped with many requests.”

Alysha’s father, Todd says the government is mistreating his daughter and others in a similar situation.

“They expect people just to walk away and say okay? It’s just not fair.”