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This article was published 30/12/2011 (2060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MORE Manitobans are collecting welfare despite the province having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, the most recent provincial numbers say.
And experts say one reason is due to the unemployed being forced to apply for provincial social assistance because of increasing delays in processing federal Employment Insurance claims.
The number of people who receive employment and income assistance rose to 35,418 in November from 34,045 a year earlier, statistics show.
Neil Cohen, executive director of Winnipeg's Community Unemployed Help Centre, said it's becoming more common for jobless Manitobans to collect provincial assistance because of the length of time it takes to get Employment Insurance claims processed. In some cases, it takes up to six weeks or longer.
"They're without money. They're waiting for two or three months before they get a cheque and they have no source of income," Cohen said Thursday. "They have no place to turn for financial support."
Cohen said the federal government is responsible for the delay in EI benefits because it has cut staff at its processing centres in the past four years.
"Instead, the minister responsible for EI (Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley) has repeatedly stuck to her script," he said. "For the last four years the script has been that, 'We're moving to an automated system. This will help us provide more efficient services.'
"But they moved to the automated system four years ago and they have failed to get the bugs out, and they have failed to put measures in place that will address the backlog."
The Globe and Mail reported this week that in October 360,481 unemployed Canadians were waiting for their EI claims to be processed, up from 181,931 in October 2007. That increase took place as temporary and permanent staff in processing centres were reduced by 13 per cent over the same period. Plus, hundreds of additional processing agents who were hired during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 have since been let go or have left without being replaced.
"They're laying off staff. They're closing call centres. They're closing claims-processing centres. They've prohibited staff from working overtime, so yes, there's a fix, but it's within the powers of the federal government to provide that fix," Cohen said.
Earlier this month, Statistics Canada reported the number of Winnipeggers collecting EI benefits had plummeted by 28 per cent from a year earlier -- 4,220 unemployed Winnipeggers received EI benefits in October -- 1,640 people less from a year earlier. The drop was the 14th consecutive month of year-over-year decreases.
Statistics Canada also said the number of Manitobans receiving EI benefits declined by 8.4 per cent, or 660 people, from a year ago to 7,230.
However, that number doesn't reflect claimants who were waiting for their paperwork to be processed.
Cohen said those collecting provincial assistance have to pay it back if and when they get their EI benefits approved, so it is not a huge drain on Manitoba's public purse. But it adds stress to a person's life having to deal with two bureaucracies to collect benefits for which they are entitled.
"Mental-health issues are exacerbated by people being without money, particularly at this time of year," he said.
"Another consequence for the province is health-care costs."
Cohen said one silver lining is the number of people using the Community Unemployed Help Centre has remained stable for the past few years, mostly because the province's unemployment rate has also been generally stable.
Manitoba lost 6,500 part-time jobs in November, but created 4,700 full-time jobs. The net loss of 1,800 positions boosted the number of unemployed workers in the province to 36,100 and drove the provincial unemployment rate up to 5.5 per cent from 5.2 per cent in October.
That gave Manitoba the third-lowest jobless rate in the country after Alberta's five per cent and Saskatchewan's 5.1 per cent.
"Manitoba has been quite fortunate that we have a relatively stable economy with low unemployment," Cohen said.