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BC sees largest rise in EI recipients

British Columbia had the highest increase across the country of regular Employment Insurance recipients over the past year at almost 50 per cent.

According to Statistics Canada data released today, 56,100 British Columbians received EI in January, 47.7 per cent more than in January 2008. The numbers also reveal a nine per cent increase over the previous month alone, well above the national average of 4.4 per cent.

Across the country, 560,400 regular recipients collected EI in January. BC, Ontario and Alberta were hit hardest with the largest increases since December.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced today $60 million in funding to hire more staff to process the increase in EI claims faster.

“One of our main priorities is to ensure that people receive their EI benefits as quickly as possible,” said Minister of Human Resources Diane Finley in a press release.

While critics welcomed the funding, they said it falls far short of what’s needed in changes to EI.

“The real issue with respect to Employment Insurance is the accessibility of the program,” NDP labour critic Chris Charlton told The Hook.

“Right now in Canada, only 40 per cent of the unemployed can get access to EI,” she said.

The NDP is calling for substantial reforms to the program. Charlton passed a motion in the House of Commons earlier this month calling on the federal government to make EI changes including eliminating the waiting period, reducing the number of work qualification hours and raising the rate of benefits.

“There is no action on any of the five steps we outlined in that motion,” said Charlton. “Those are the things that Canadians need as they’re losing their jobs.”

Increased applications for EI are expected to climb as unemployment rose both nationally and in B.C. last month. Canada’s official unemployment rate is at 7.7 per cent, while the provincial rate rose 6.7 per cent from 6.1 per cent in January.

Charlton said today’s funding announcement is miniscule compared to the amount of money the federal government has taken from the EI contributions fund to spend on unrelated programs such as debt reduction.

“The government has cut back benefits over the last decade and now when employees need access to those programs they’ve paid for, they’re not available to them,” she said.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Hook.

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