CORNER BROOK — Gerry Byrne says people involved in the fishery who are waiting for erroneous changes to the Employment Insurance program to be remediated may have to wait months for their full benefits.
The federal government, meanwhile, says those impacted will have their rightful amounts of money before Christmas.
Last spring, the federal government tabled a budget implementation bill that included changes to the EI system as it pertains to people who work in the fishery and manage to find another source of income during the year.
Under the changes, people who worked in the fishery discovered they could no longer claim their higher income from fishing if they worked enough weeks in another sector to qualify for EI benefits. For some, that meant a drop in their benefits from around $800 every two weeks to around $300.
Since The Western Star reported on this issue in October, the federal government has admitted the change was a mistake and promised to correct it and make the changes retroactive to the filing date of the claim.
That fix is now included in the latest budget implementation bill making its way through the House of Commons in Ottawa.
Byrne, the Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, said it could be late December before the bill is passed and longer before recipients begin getting their appropriate benefits.
“By the time instructions go to the EI processing staff at Service Canada and the files get re-processed, nobody is going to be getting a cheque until at least late January, on into February and possibly even as late as March,” charged Byrne.
With the Christmas season coming up, the MP said government should proceed as if the legislation has been passed and at least commence the process of having the impacted EI claims reassessed. The government has done this in the past, noted Byrne, with pensioners receiving Guaranteed Income Supplement since 2008 without actually having the accompanying legislation enacted.
“The fix is before the House of Commons,” said Byrne. “It is being accepted by all parties as being valid. It is only a matter of time before the legislation is indeed fixed. Nobody is going to fault government to act as if the legislation before the House has been passed.”
Nick Koolsbergen, the Department of Employment and Social Development’s director of communications, said Byrne has it wrong. The budget implementation bill, he said, will soon be headed for Third Reading in the House of Commons — likely Monday — and said EI recipients will have their money before Christmas.
“The Liberals have voted against this thing a couple of times already, so we really hope that Gerry Byrne and the rest of his Liberal colleagues will vote in favour of it on Monday, especially because it contains this fix for EI fishing claimants,” said Koolsbergen. “We obviously need to get this bill passed, but before Christmas is our expectation.”
When asked if there is anything that would delay the cheques until later in the winter, Koolsbergen said there was not.
“We’re aiming for Christmas,” he said.