jill gordon

Jill Gordon spent weeks on the phone with Service Canada, trying to get her maternity leave benefits processed. (David Shield, CBC)

After giving birth in November, Jill Gordon thought applying to Employment Insurance for her maternity leave benefits would be a fairly easy process.

But after spending hours on the phone with the EI hotline, Gordon says it took almost two months before she received her money.

"I'd call about 20 to 30 times, and I'd finally get through, but then you have to wait another 45 minutes to talk to somebody on the phone," she said.

When she did get through, she says the response was rarely helpful.

"Every time I called, they either had no answer about my file, or they said to call back around three days, and they might have an answer," she said.

Gordon isn't alone. Martensville's Tyla MacDonald spent weeks phoning the EI call centre line to process her maternity leave benefits.

"I waited seven weeks, and when I finally had the time, I called repeatedly, over and over," she said. "My best friend was there too, she was calling repeatedly until one of us got through."

LONG WAIT 

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, winter is a very busy time of the year, with their caseloads double normal levels.

When things get busy, the ministry allows for more overtime to reduce backlogs as quickly as possible.

However, Neil Cohen, Executive Director of Winnipeg's Community Unemployed Help Centre says staff cutbacks and office closures have made it increasingly difficult to get access to Employment Insurance.

 "I think what tends to happen is that you have a lack of public confidence in the program," he said. "And that's a real concern, because we would hope that people would demand a better quality program and better quality services, but often people have completely lost faith."

Between 2012 and 2015, Service Canada plans to close and/or merge almost 100 of its 120 processing centres across the country.

Meanwhile, Jill Gordon says she's relatively lucky. Her husband is still bringing in a paycheque, and says without that stable income, things would have been much more serious.

"For me, it was a bad experience, but I can't imagine what single mothers have to go through when they apply for EI," she said. "I'm sure there are lots of single moms with no income, and no family to turn to for any kind of money."