Saskatchewan

Martensville, Sask. family struggling because of CERB-to-maternity payment confusion

Whitney Ebinger, a new mom in Martensville, Sask., has been trying to sort out EI, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and maternity leave payments over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus far the experience has left her in debt and struggling to feed her family.

'I'm not eating as much because I have no money': Whitney Ebinger

Whitney Ebinger, her son, and her husband Colby. Ebinger says her family is struggling because of complications switching from CERB payments to maternity leave payments. (Submitted by Whitney Ebinger)

Whitney Ebinger, a new mom in Martensville, Sask., has been trying to sort out EI, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and maternity leave payments over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus far the experience has left her in debt and struggling to feed her family.

She was laid off in March and applied to EI because CERB didn't exist yet. At this point, Ebinger was seven months pregnant. Weeks without payment turned to months. Ebinger had to be switched to CERB payments during the confusion.

Ebinger said she finally received her first payment May 5 after a lot of back and forth. She said she received two other payments that month, but hasn't been paid since. 

I'm not eating as much because I have no money, or eating fast food because that's all I can afford.- Whitney Ebinger

Ebinger gave birth May 2. There was confusion over when her maternity leave pay would start and her CERB payments would stop. In the end, Ebinger said the mix up has resulted in her having to go hungry some days because she isn't being paid. 

"What am I supposed to do? I have no money. None. It's absolutely ridiculous," she said. "The system is flawed. It's disgusting."

She said one government worker she spoke with told her that other parents are having the same problem with the switch between CERB and maternity leave payments.

"It's not like I just quit working and decided to ask for money from the government. I'm asking to feed my newborn son," she said.

"I've had to borrow money from my family, take money out of our savings just to feed my son. I'm not eating as much because I have no money, or eating fast food because that's all I can afford. My credit card payments are going up because I can't pay it down."

Ebinger also has car payments to make, has deferred her mortgage and gets anxious about checking the mail in case a bill comes.

She said she hopes the system can be streamlined so another family doesn't have to go through what hers is.

"It's disgusting how hard it is to receive any help."

'Give people some hope'

Mark Crawford, director of the Saskatchewan Unemployed Workers Centre, said Ebinger's story is heartbreaking. One of the things the centre does is help people with these applications and navigate the system, at no cost. 

"One of the things we're able to do is just immediately give people some hope," he said.

Are you tired of waiting on hold trying to get access to Employment Insurance or some other federal benefit program? Do you wish someone would help? Someone will. We hear from Mark Crawford of Saskatchewan's Unemployed Workers Centre. 12:19

Crawford has been doing the job for 25 years and said that experience is one reason people can trust the organization to help.

"It's a privilege to do this work and it's greatly satisfying, not only as an individual but to do this as an entity," Crawford said. 

The organization is funded by Saskatchewan unions and the provincial government.

Crawford said things were "crazy" busy at the start of the pandemic, but it has since calmed down.

About the Author

Emily Pasiuk

Reporter/Associate Producer

Emily Pasiuk is a Regina-based reporter for CBC Saskatchewan and an associate producer for The Morning Edition. She has filmed two documentaries, reported at CTV Saskatoon and written for Global Regina. Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition

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