Sick, tired and getting the runaround


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/06/2021 (713 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, but some Canadians who cannot work due to illness have the frustration of government bureaucracy added to their pain.

The pandemic has not spared people from non-COIVD-related health problems such as cancer, heart attacks and other debilitating health issues. Qualifying workers without employer-provided benefits who become too ill to work can fall back on the Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefit.

The NDP, and now the House of Commons as a whole, has called for an extension of the EI sickness benefit to 50 weeks, but the government has kept the benefit at only 15 weeks; not enough time for all people to recover and return to work. Canadians are fed up with trying to deal with government bureaucracy while attempting to deal with protecting themselves from COVID-19.

In some cases, people who exhaust their sickness benefit claims can qualify for up to four weeks of the new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB); a program created by the government as an alternative to NDP calls for legislated paid sick days.

But accessing the program after an EI sickness benefit claim too often turns into a bureaucratic nightmare.

The website will tell you to log into your CRA MyAccount to apply, but the old EI sickness benefit claim flags the account. It takes hours, sometimes days, to contact the Canada Revenue Agency to get an explanation, only to be told to contact Service Canada to terminate the EI claim, even though the benefit is already used up. Service Canada, in turn, may well tell you that it cannot terminate the claim and to talk to someone at the CRA.

Getting the runaround is frustrating enough, but the people in this situation are usually exhausted by illness and under serious financial stress. They may be unable to afford their medication or facing the prospect of eviction. The last thing they need is to spend all day on hold, only to be told to do it again the next day.

It is often when people have exhausted all their other options that they contact their MP. I raised this issue in correspondence and in the House with members of the government.

In April 2021, the government finally created a task force to more quickly process the claims of Canadians getting the runaround, but the number of applicants falling through the cracks is so high that cases still take weeks or months to resolve.

A 50-week EI sickness benefit has been costed and found reasonable; requiring just a fraction of the over $60 billion that successive Liberal and Conservative governments stole from the EI fund in the last 25 years. It would go a long way to reduce needless suffering. With the House of Commons already on board, the missing ingredient is political will on the government benches.

That is why we need more MPs in Parliament that are willing to press the government to do better. I am motivated by the stories of people here in Elmwood-Transcona and across the country who need this change to happen and will continue to push for this important reform.

Daniel Blaikie

Daniel Blaikie
Elmwood-Transcona constituency report

Daniel Blaikie is the NDP MP for Elmwood-Transcona.

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