Oil slump: Unemployed in St. John's aren't eligible for extended EI
Most of N.L. can take advantage of recent changes to EI, except those living on the Northeast Avalon
People in the St. John's Metro area are not eligible for extended employment insurance benefits intended to help regions hurt by the oil slump, CBC News has learned.
In their 2016 budget, the federal government offered extra weeks of employment insurance (EI) to 15 areas hit hard by the economic downturn —including Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, the government said Tuesday that St. John's and surrounding communities up to Pouch Cove are excluded from that, because the unemployment rate increased significantly more outside the Northeast Avalon than in the city.
The most recent unemployment rate for St. John's was 6.3 per cent, compared to 16.9 per cent everywhere else in the province.
'It's just crazy'
Jim Lundy, a 66-year-old EI claimant, said he was "flabbergasted" to find out he wasn't eligible for extended benefits when he called the office Tuesday morning.
"It's just crazy to me. St. John's is an obvious centre of the oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador and the impacts here are substantial," said Lundy, who lives in St. John's.
Lundy was laid off from his job installing oil spill detection radars in April 2015.
He said he'd been looking for information on the extra benefits for several weeks, but had not received any.
"The people at the local EI office weren't being very forward about this," he said, adding that the federal government did not mention the exclusion criteria on its website.
"I can imagine there are people who are really waiting with bated breath for those benefits... particularly they're there to support the possibility of having a career change as well. So all that is closed to people in St. John's. You can give that up."
Starting this month, unemployed workers outside the Metro region are eligible for an extra five weeks of EI, while long-tenured workers are eligible for an extra 20 weeks.
Helping all EI claimants, Ottawa says
In a statement, the Department of Employment and Social Development said it supported all EI claimants in the 2016 budget, particularly those in hard-hit regions.
Government said it has made several positive changes to EI, for everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador, including reducing the wait period, hiring more agents, reducing EI premiums, and eliminating certain eligibility requirements.
According to the department, regions must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for extended benefits:
- have experienced an increase in the unemployment rate of two or more percentage points between March 2015 and May 2016.
- this increase was sustained for three consecutive months beyond the rate posted for use in the EI program between December 2014 and February 2015; and
- their unemployment rate between March 2015 and May 2016 did not return to within one percent of the rate observed in the December 2014 to February 2015 period.