The employment insurance system has absorbed nearly 1.3 million people in the past three weeks, new figures show, as a key COVID-19 benefit ended.
A breakdown of claims for the Simplified Employment Insurance program shows that overall, over 1.5 million claims had been received by the end of last week, including 1.15 million people who were automatically transferred when their emergency benefit has run out.
The numbers are huge for a system that in one day this month processed over 246,000 complaints. In the spring, officials feared that March’s 87,000 one-day requests would shatter the decades-old system.
Figures obtained by The Canadian Press also show that more than 84 percent of requests had been processed, which, according to experts who reviewed the numbers, was a positive sign for the transition to the Canadian service delivery of emergency, better known as CERB.
Add to that the more than 300,000 people who turned to a suite of new benefits on the first day they were available, and the numbers give an indication of the continued need for income support even as employment resumes.
Claims figures may be “invaluable in providing a partial, real-time assessment” of the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce, officials wrote to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough in April.
At the time, they wrote in a briefing note about providing regular updates on CERB recipients and payments as “the labor market landscape continues to change across the country.
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.
The CERB ceased to exist on October 3, although people can still retroactively request payments from CERB until December 2. The government expected up to four million people to use the revamped EI and three additional benefits for those who do not qualify for EI.
Up to 2.8 million people would need employment insurance, according to internal projections from the ministry that oversees the program. About a million more would likely need the three new perks.
On the first day it was available last week, 240,640 people applied for the Canada Recovery Benefit. On the same Monday, a further 107,150 requested care and 58,560 requested the new two-week sickness benefit, both open for claims the week before.
The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives had estimated that about 5,000 people would use taxable sickness benefits. Its senior economist, David Macdonald, said the much higher number suggests that some workers eligible for EI may have found it easier to apply for sickness benefits.
“There will be a lot of honest confusion among people as to where they might apply next, and they might go down the path of least resistance, which will be these (recovery) programs,” said Macdonald, who followed. up close the aid figures.
Mikal Skuterud, professor and labor economist at the University of Waterloo, said there may also be people who qualify for EI, but apply for CRB due to other differences in programs, such as how quickly benefits are clawed back, how long last, and how much tax is withheld at the source of the payments.
“There are big problems there, but it’s a little unfair to criticize the government because the design of these types of income support programs for the self-employed is a quagmire,” he said. .
The first EI payments were made this week, with just over 84% of claimants receiving benefits, a figure experts have found to be positive.
The labor market has recovered about 2.3 million of the three million jobs lost when the pandemic first hit. A new round of restrictions amid the surge in COVID-19 cases threatens some of those gains.
Given the unknown future trajectory of COVID-19, Scotiabank senior economist Marc Desormeaux said the government will need to be very careful when cutting profits from the pandemic.
Ending programs too early could lead to poor business results as fewer people have money to spend, which can lead to bankruptcies or closures, create job losses and weaken employment again.
“We want to try to recover as quickly as possible, because these things have a way to get stronger,” he said in an interview.
“At this point, we’re comfortable with those (benefits) in place, just to provide that certainty and a cushion against the potential impacts of Wave 2.