Albertans facing online issues in emergency funding applications

Several Albertans have reached out to CBC News to express frustration in the application process for the Emergency Isolation Support program. The rollout of the emergency funding has been fraught with technical issues.

Funding meant to be stop-gap measure until federal payments in April

Some Albertans are expressing frustration at the application process for the province's emergency isolation funding. (Josee St-Onge/ CBC)

Albertans continue to describe frustrating dead-ends during the application process for the province's emergency one-time funding even as its intended time span draws to a close.

"It's absolutely frustrating and I really do need it," Jason Whitlock said Saturday.

Whitlock is self-employed and does contract floor-coating work, but business has ground to a halt since the COVID-19 outbreak.

He said he's been trying for days to make it through the Emergency Isolation Support program's application process, each of his attempts thwarted by one issue or another. The system would not recognize his ID. He spent hours on hold with the support line. The website would be over capacity.

"The best analogy I can think of is like trying to push a tsunami through a pinhole," he said.

Whitlock is one of several Albertans who reached out to CBC News to express frustration with the application process.

The roll-out of the emergency funding — a one-time payment of $1,146 through an Interac e-transfer to eligible applicants — has been fraught with technical issues. When it launched on Wednesday, high demand forced the province to temporarily stop taking applications and reset servers.

But Tricia Velthuizen, press secretary for Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish, said in an emailed statement the website was functioning Saturday with no unplanned maintenance outages. Over 20,000 applications had been processed, she said, an increase since the 16,000 mentioned by the premier Friday.

The roughly $50 million in funding is available to working adults who meet the province's published criteria for self-isolation. This includes people who are the sole caregivers to dependents who must self-isolate, and those who have otherwise been directed to self-isolate by health authorities.

Velthuizen said the demand was extremely high and requests continue to overwhelm processing capacity. 

"Albertans may find that the system is temporarily unavailable as we need to remove the online access periodically and on an ongoing basis," she said.

"We appreciate people's patience as we work continually to improve the system."

However, Velthuizen did not provide a closing date for applications when asked. The application website reads that the program is only temporary to "bridge the gap until the Federal Emergency Care Benefit is available in April."

Michael Peters is a partner in Edmonton business Fox Runner Tattoo, which has shut down due to the pandemic. He says he's worried about not getting through in time.

"With this system constantly, constantly constantly stopping people from getting this credit eventually, a lot of us aren't going to be able to get it," Peters said Saturday.

"I know there are different EI and support plans coming, but to get us through this gap this is very important."

With files from Paige Parsons


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