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N.B. government abruptly cancels employment insurance program for students

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick axes unemployment program for students' New Brunswick axes unemployment program for students
The provincial government has gotten rid of a critical unemployment program for students. New Brunswick’s “EI Connect” was ended abruptly without explanation, according to the Federation of Students for Université de Moncton – and that’s drawing a lot of criticism and concern. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – Jun 24, 2022

The cancellation of a New Brunswick-based unemployment program for students completing post-secondary education has both students and student organizations worried.

NB-EI Connect allowed students to get unemployment benefits while attending a post-secondary institution in the province full-time.

In an email obtained by Global News, the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour said because the program didn’t align with the federal requirements for EI – by allowing students to collect the benefits while not being able to work full-time during the school months – it would end, “effectively immediately.”

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“Given the province’s current labour market challenges, NB-EI Connect also conflicts with the province’s efforts to assist employers in filling job vacancies,” the email said.

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To Kathryn Murphy, that’s a bit of a slap in the face.

Murphy is entering a course-based master’s program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and used the program during her undergrad and had planned on applying for it again ahead of her start in the fall.

She said she even geared her summer job toward ensuring she qualified for the program when the time came.

“To have that just ripped away is just disheartening,” she said in an interview.

Murphy said the program helped her tremendously during her undergrad.

“I was taking at times five courses and three labs so I was unable to work completely. I was completely booked with school. So, having that extra $500 to $800 every other week, I could set aside some of the money and use it for my rent.”

She isn’t alone.

Saint John student Caitlin Grogan used it during one of the years in her undergrad and planned on using it in the fall.

“I’m not utilizing right now, but I had hoped to utilize it in the fall when I return to school, but that will no longer be an option.”

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She said she knew student loans wouldn’t meet her every need while she was in school. It’ll mean Grogan will have to take on a bank loan — not an ideal situation, she said.

“We’re also actively preventing people from bettering their position to move toward higher-skilled jobs, jobs that require more education, by not promoting continuing education for individuals.”

Students respond to cancellation

Hannah Travis, who is studying to be a licensed practical nurse, said in a message to Global News that the announcement brought her to tears.

“I’ve waited four years to get into my LPN program and now I may have to withdraw because I can’t afford it without EI,” she said in the message. “I’ve been putting into EI since 2017. Why am I being punished? What did I do?”

Several other people also expressed concern through social media.

“Both of my daughters have utilized this program since they started university,” said Twitter user Tim Davis. “To have it pulled out from under them without warning is disgraceful. They have chosen summer jobs based on number of hours, and not necessarily pay, to ensure they qualified. Timing is brutal.”

Tracy Wilson posted on Twitter that her daughter uses the program.

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“She is a full-time nursing student,” she said in her post. “It helped pay her rent and essentials while in school. Student loans only pay for her tuition. Not rent, groceries, (or) gas. I don’t understand how other seasonal workers qualify for EI, but not students.”

Jean-Sebastian Leger, the president of the Fédération des étudiantes et étudiants du Centre universitaire de Moncton, said the notice was provided to them on Thursday through an email with “undisclosed recipients.”

Leger said they decided to announce the cancellation because the government had communicated to them it would not be making any public statements.

“There (are) no alternatives presented for students who have been impacted by this news,” he said in an interview Friday.

Leger said it was frustrating and deplorable.

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Students need to concentrate on their studies, Leger explained, and taking on any kind of job can really impact that focus and the mental health of students.

“Basically, what the government (has done is) made a short-term solution by mortgaging the future of young New Brunswickers and students and that is unacceptable,” he said.

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The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour confirmed it had ended the unemployment program, saying it didn’t fall in line with federal requirements.

“We have heard from many employers who are desperate for workers, especially those in the hospitality and service industry who would traditionally have access to students working part-time,” the statement said in an email.

Paul Bradley, a spokesperson for the department, said employment insurance was never intended to fund post-secondary education or act as financial aid.

“There are, however, many supports and services that are in place for students to assist them with the costs of their post-secondary studies,” he said in the statement.

“Individuals who are unemployed or underemployed and have/had a labour force attachment, may still be approved to receive EI during their training. This support must be part of an employment action plan developed with a WorkingNB employment counsellor. The Training and Skills Development program delivered by WorkingNB also remains in place to provide funding opportunities where appropriate.”

The federal department of Employment and Social Development did not respond to a request for comment by Global News before deadline.

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