The percentage of unemployed people collecting employment insurance on P.E.I. fell dramatically in 2013.

Reforms to the EI system by the federal government came into effect one year ago Monday.

EI beneficiaries Unemployed %
Monthly averages
2012 8,788 9,216 95.6
2013 7,652 9,480 80.6

Figures from Statistics Canada show that through 2012 an average of 95.6 per cent of the unemployed on P.E.I. were receiving employment insurance. During the first 10 months of 2013 that fell to an average of 80.6 per cent. 

The changes raised the bar on looking for work requirements, and some claimants lost weeks worth of coverage.

The drop in EI beneficiaries represents a cohort of about 1,100 Islanders who were able to collect EI in 2012 but not in 2013.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees blames the federal government's EI system reform for the significant drop in the number Islanders receiving EI payments.

Lori MacKay, president of CUPE on P.E.I., said there have been so many changes some people don't understand how they're affected until their benefits run out.

"All the changes are kind of coming in quietly, and subtly," said MacKay.

"It's impacting people to the point where they're not recognizing until it's almost to the point where, I'm not getting my bills paid. So I think that's one of the frustrating parts with these changes."

MacKay said people who run out of benefits before they find work are spending their savings, going into debt, or relying on family to help pay the bills.

Employment situation improving, says government

A statement to CBC News from Employment and Social Development Canada said the number of people on EI has dropped across the country by eight per cent.

The department credits an improvement in the unemployment rate both nationally and provincially between October 2012 and October 2013.

The number of unemployed on P.E.I. did drop from October to October, from 9,500 to 9,000, but the number of those receiving EI benefits fell significantly more. In October 2012 93 per cent of unemployed Islanders were receiving benefits, but in October 2013 only 83 per cent were.

For mobile device users: Take a more in depth look at the numbers here

Full response from Employment and Social Development Canada

Under Connecting Canadians with Available Jobs (CCAJ), the changes to Employment Insurance (EI) clarified the long-standing responsibilities of EI claimants to look for work while receiving benefits. Of those people who were disqualified from EI, far less than 1% were disqualified because they failed to search for work or refused to accept suitable work. In 2013, approximately 80% of the increase in the number of disentitlements and disqualifications was due to claimants being outside the country. These disentitlements are not new and have nothing to do with the recent changes to EI.

Our government has made modest and reasonable changes to EI to help keep Canadians attached to the workforce and better connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their local area that match their skills.

The rules around applying for and qualifying for EI have not changed.

EI benefits continue to be there for Canadians, including in areas where jobs simply do not exist outside seasonal or specialized industries.

To answer your question as to why the numbers have dropped:

The number of regular beneficiaries for October 2013 is a measure of all persons who received Employment Insurance (EI) regular benefits during the October 20th to 29th, 2013 reference week of the Labour Force Survey. Statistics Canada released preliminary EI monthly statistics for October 2013 on December 19th, 2013.  

According to this release, the number of EI regular beneficiaries in October declined across all provinces, when compared to October 2012.  This is in line with the post-recession trend of declining EI claims and gradually improving labour market conditions.  The national unemployment rate fell for the first time below 7.0% since the recession. In PEI, and in line with this trend, the unemployment rate also decreased by almost 1 percentage point, from 11.6% to 10.7%.   

It should be noted that the monthly figures released by Statistics Canada are preliminary and subject to regular adjustments in upcoming months.

For more information, please visit “Changes to Employment Insurance: Get the Facts” http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/sc/ei/ccaj/vignettes.shtml