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‘There’s even some people I know that had to drop out of university … because they couldn’t afford it’
Wayne Thibodeau · CBC News ·
Changes to a program that allows Island students to continue to receive employment insurance benefits while attending university and college have left some students out in the cold.
The Career Connect Program has been operating for the past four years.
But some students had to reapply in October. Their cheques stopped if they didn’t.
Will Ross, a third-year psychology student at UPEI, said he was shocked when he was told by Service Canada that he was not eligible for EI benefits.
Ross worked at a Cavendish golf course this summer to earn enough hours to qualify for employment insurance to help offset the costs of attending UPEI. He started to receive payments in September.
But that changed in October.
‘I’m not eligible’
“I just applied for EI in October and have been waiting ever since,” said the 20-year-old Stratford resident.
“I made numerous phone calls to Service Canada, just asking for an update on my situation and I was told every time that everything was fine.There was nothing missing. They were aware that I was a student.”
He said that changed within the past week. “I received a call from them saying that I’m not eligible to receive regular benefits because I’m a student attending university.”
Ross is not alone.
He said he’s part of a social media group of more than 50 students who have had their EI claims rejected.
Career Connect is administered by the provincial and federal governments through Skills P.E.I. and Service Canada.
In a statement to CBC News, the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture, which is responsible for Skills P.E.I., said it is working with Service Canada on files that are pending to confirm all of the information has been submitted.
‘We noticed challenges’
“In October, we noticed challenges that we have not seen in other years,” the statement went on to say.
“This appeared to primarily be due to changes made to the number of weeks of benefits EI claimants were eligible for, and therefore an existing claim extended into the start of their school program in September.
“While this did bring an added benefit to clients, it did cause issues as the clients needed to reapply for Employment Insurance again this fall when the weeks of their old claim expired and staff had to complete the referral process twice and the client has to re-apply for EI.”
Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey said his office has been trying to help “quite a few” students who are being denied benefits.
Morrisey said it is critical that students get approval from the Career Connect program well before applying for EI. He said that is not new, but an extension to EI last year has created new confusion.
“It appears to have been triggered by the fact that in a normal year the student would exhaust their EI claims in the spring of the year, so before returning to full-time training, university or college, they would file a new EI claim, and that new EI claim would require the referrals,” Morrissey said from his Ottawa office.
But this year, because of COVID-19, the federal government extended EI benefits, meaning students continued to get money from their old EI claims well into September.
‘No money coming in’
Ross is now filling out the necessary paperwork.
He hopes he can get his cheques rolling again soon. He said the whole situation is causing a lot of stress and he believes the process needs to be clearer.
“There’s no money coming in and bills are coming in,” he said.
“Some people that I know … have no money to pay their rent. People with car payments can’t pay them, and there’s even some people I know that had to drop out of university … because they couldn’t afford it.”
Photo source: Wayne Thibodeau/CBC