COVID-19 relief line has been log­jammed, ap­pli­cants say

Ser­vice Al­berta spokes­woman says kinks in sys­tem have largely been ironed out

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BILL KAUFMANN Bkauf­mann@post­media.com on Twitter: @Bil­lka­uf­man­njrn

Some Al­ber­tans hurt by COVID19’S eco­nomic bite say the sys­tem to ap­ply for pro­vin­cial ben­e­fits has crashed, adding to their frus­tra­tion.

Ear­lier this month, the UCP gov­ern­ment rolled out the emer­gency iso­la­tion sup­port ben­e­fit which pro­vides ap­pli­cants $1,146 in a one-time pay­ment if they meet cri­te­ria based on be­ing forced to stay at home with a loss of in­come.

It’s meant as a stop-gap un­til the Fed­eral Emer­gency Care Ben­e­fit comes into ef­fect, in April.

But some of those ap­ply­ing say the on­line ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tem ei­ther doesn’t work or that their at­tempts to seek fur­ther help are stymied by crammed phone lines.

Rosan­gela De Vin­cenzo said the on­line ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tem was un­re­spon­sive as re­cently as Mon­day and call­ing a des­ig­nated phone line for help was only met with frus­tra­tion.

“When you call them, they re­fer you back to the web­site to re­sub­mit and when I do, they tell you to call,” said De Vin­cenzo, whose Bed­ding­ton Heights preschool was shut­tered to pre­vent the spread of the novel coronaviru­s.

“I feel like a dog chas­ing my tail,” she said.

De Vin­cenzo added she can’t col­lect em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­cause she’s a small busi­ness oper­a­tor, adding the pro­vin­cial as­sis­tance would come in handy.

“There’s so much un­cer­tainty — it’s scary be­cause I don’t know when they’ll let us re­open or if there’ll be any kids re­turn­ing,” she said. “I can’t pay rent be­cause I can’t charge tu­ition.”

De Vin­cenzo said she’s home-school­ing her three chil­dren, which doesn’t leave her much time to work the phone and com­puter to ap­ply for as­sis­tance.

She’s among some ap­pli­cants who won­der if the ben­e­fit sys­tem’s de­sign is meant to be a de­lay­ing tac­tic to en­sure all the costs of COVID -19 ben­e­fits fall on Ot­tawa.

“I feel that this is some ploy to not ac­tu­ally help the peo­ple of Al­berta,” said De Vin­cenzo.

Cal­gar­ian Danielle Per­reault said she’s en­coun­tered sim­i­lar road­blocks af­ter her mas­sage ther­apy busi­ness was shut down.

“The on­line plat­form is so over­whelmed; very few peo­ple can ac­cess the sys­tem,” said Per­reault.

“And they don’t ac­tu­ally seem to be tak­ing calls.”

Per­reault said she’s waited on the phones for six to eight hours over suc­ces­sive days with no re­sult.

“If they ac­tu­ally told us they’re try­ing to rem­edy that, it would make peo­ple feel bet­ter,” said Per­reault.

The pro­gram’s web­site — which walks Al­ber­tans through the ap­pli­ca­tion process — ac­knowl­edges the chal­lenges of heavy de­mand.

“We need to pe­ri­od­i­cally re­move the on­line ac­cess to the sys­tem in or­der to man­age the flow of ap­pli­ca­tions,” the web­site states. “We will make it avail­able as soon as pos­si­ble. Thank you for your un­der­stand­ing.”

But a spokes­woman for Ser­vice Al­berta said the kinks in the sys­tem have mostly been worked out and that 29,000 ap­pli­ca­tions have been pro­cessed since the start of last week­end.

“Over the past sev­eral days, the web­site has been func­tion­ing well with no un­planned out­ages for main­te­nance … by end of day on Sun­day,” said Tri­cia Velthuisen.

“De­spite iso­lated prob­lems, many, many Al­ber­tans are get­ting through … We en­cour­age el­i­gi­ble Al­ber­tans to con­tinue check­ing the site through­out the day to ap­ply.”

When you call them, they re­fer you back to the web­site to re­sub­mit and when I do, they tell you to call.

DAR­REN MAKOWICHUK

Rosan­gela De Vin­cenzo’s Preschool Academy has been shut­tered in the BP Church as part of the coronaviru­s lockdown. The mother of three has not been able to get through to ap­ply for pro­vin­cial relief fund­ing, de­spite spend­ing hours on her phone and com­puter.

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