COVID-19 relief line has been logjammed, applicants say
Service Alberta spokeswoman says kinks in system have largely been ironed out
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.
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.