Edmonton needs to get equal EI benefits, food bank head says

The Edmonton Food Bank is calling on the federal government to reverse its decision to exclude the region from recent changes to employment insurance.

736 families in food hamper program awaiting or receiving EI benefits

Food bank executive director Marjorie Bencz says more Edmontonians are relying on hampers from her organization. (Travis McEwan/CBC )

The Edmonton Food Bank is calling on the federal government to reverse its decision to exclude the region from recent changes to employment insurance.

In February, the food bank provided hampers to 736 households where residents were receiving or waiting for EI benefits, executive director Marjorie Bencz said Thursday.

Since December, the food bank provided hampers to more than 19,000 homes each month. That figure is 60 per cent higher than it was in December 2014.

Bencz said Edmonton needs the same level of support offered to every other community in Alberta.

"We're really concerned when governments make decisions that exclude the city of Edmonton or Edmonton and the surrounding areas because we do feel that there's been really a negative effect of the changes in the economy on Edmontonians," she said.

Last week, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that people in 12 zones across Canada hardest hit by the economic downturn will find it easier to qualify for EI benefits and receive them for a longer period of time.

Unemployment problem expected to get worse

Alberta claimants who qualify will get an additional five weeks of benefits. Long-tenured employees will receive 20 extra weeks of help. The benefits are also retroactive to January 2015.

However, the government said Edmonton's employment rate wasn't as bad as the rest of the province so the changes didn't apply to the region.

The Edmonton zone also includes Leduc and Nisku, where many oil service industries are based.

Michael Enders was laid-off from his job at a northern Alberta work camp in January. He is now looking for any kind of job that will help him make ends meet. (Travis McEwan/CBC )

Some people at a job fair in downtown Edmonton Thursday also weren't happy with the federal government's decision. 

Ming Zhung has been receiving EI for the past three months since he was laid-off after nine years of work at an engineering firm. He said he is disappointed with Edmonton's exclusion from the EI changes. 

"It's crazy," he said, calling for the decision to be reversed. 

Michael Enders was also at the job fair. The former camp clerk in northern Alberta was laid off in January. He didn't qualify for employment insurance because he didn't have the required hours. 

"I don't think it was fair at all," he said. "I actually think it was a good slap in the face."

Enders said he is open to taking any kind of job in what he describes as a tough job market. He said the crowds at the job fair show what's really happening with the city's employment market. 

"It shows that Edmonton is really hurting," Enders said. "The north is really hurting. Calgary, of course, is still hurting. All of Alberta is hurting. I think we should all be treated equally." 

On Wednesday, Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the federal government was wrong to exclude the region when extending EI benefits. He said Ottawa relied on outdated employment numbers when making the decision.

Bencz said she is concerned the problem will continue to get worse. She says more workers still start applying for EI when their severance payments run out.


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