Budget cuts caused EI backlog, NDP says


OTTAWA – A backlog in processing employment insurance claims that the government has yet to clear may have partially been a result of its own two-year-old budget cuts, a recently released document suggests.

A two-year-old briefing note to then-employment minister Jason Kenney outlines how federal budget cuts in 2013 made it more difficult to process EI claims and send either a payment or a denial letter within about a month of receiving an application.

That briefing note also outlines a communications plan to manage expectations from EI claimants caught in the processing backlog.

The document was released to the federal NDP under the Access to Information Act. A copy was provided to The Canadian Press.

Historically, Service Canada has tried to process 80 per cent of EI claims within 28 days of their receipt. That hasn’t always been possible, especially during times of the year when claims spike, including the holiday season in December and just after New Year’s.

When the department couldn’t meet the 28-day standard, an automated call system simply stopped telling callers how long it might take to process their claims. Every other time of the year, the system would spit out the standard 28-day answer, even thought processing times were a few days longer than that most of the year, according to a chart attached to the briefing note.

Funding cuts, however, strained the department further. With less federal funding, processing times dropped from that 80 per cent standard to 60 per cent, according to the briefing note.

Hence the conundrum for the department: As processing times dropped, the number of unhappy applicants checking on their claims went up, creating “an additional burden on operations,” the document notes.

Such calls can make up 15 per cent of call volumes, it said.

In response, the department crafted a communications strategy to “better manage client expectations” by giving more realistic wait times and allowing “scarce resources to be put to best use in processing claims.”

The department wouldn’t answer questions about the communications strategy.

In an email, Employment and Social Development Canada spokesman Simon Rivet said the department is now meeting the 80 per cent processing target. He said 400 workers hired to deal with the backlog should be finished their work by October 2016.

NDP employment insurance critic Robert Chisholm said the government failed to recognize warnings about the negative effect budget cuts would have on processing claims.

“The cuts created the problem and they knew there was going to be a problem,” Chisholm said. The result was that some applicants didn’t receive benefits until too late, he said.