Posted on Apr 29, 2020
UCP ABANDONED 33,000 ALBERTANS WHO ASKED FOR HELP—THEN LIED ABOUT IT
EDMONTON – Jason Kenney and the UCP left more than 33,000 Albertans without emergency financial support payments at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, show numbers obtained by the NDP Caucus.
Contrary to repeated claims by UCP cabinet ministers and staff, the Emergency Isolation Support program did not have a 95 per cent approval rate. The actual approval rate is 74 per cent, accounting for the more than 33,000 Albertans who could not complete their application or had their application rejected.
“Jason Kenney underfunded this support program and then closed it prematurely, cutting off tens of thousands of Albertans who were relying on his government for help at the most stressful time of their lives,” said Alberta NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “Jason Kenney needs to explain why one in four applicants were denied and his UCP government needs to commit to working with these Albertans and getting them the support they were promised. They deserve an explanation and an apology.”
It is well-known that the Emergency Isolation Program application process was insurmountable for many Albertans, as the website was confusing, difficult to navigate, and repeatedly unavailable. At the time the program closed on April 6, the UCP refused to say how many applications were approved.
Numbers obtained through a freedom of information request show that 24 per cent of applicants, or 30,540 out of 127,611 applications, were rejected and did not receive help. In addition, at least 2,829 Albertans could not complete their applications before the program was cancelled, and also did not receive emergency support.
Yet, on April 7, UCP House Leader Jason Nixon told the legislature that the program had “a 95 per cent approval rate”, leading Albertans to believe that the vast majority of applicants were approved. This false approval rate was repeatedly tweeted by UCP staff. Finance Minister Travis Toews told Town and Country News on April 8 that “approximately 95 per cent of the applications were approved”.
All these statements were untrue, and the Alberta NDP Caucus is calling on the UCP government to immediately reevaluate all denied applications to ensure no Albertan was unfairly rejected, and to explain why they lied to Albertans about the approval rate inside and outside of the legislature.
The Alberta NDP Caucus heard from many Albertans who did not understand why they were denied, and could not receive an explanation. Despite repeated attempts to apply, Dustin Milne was denied. The self-employed Calgary A/V technician said he used the same criteria as friends who were approved.
“It just made no sense. It took days and days of trying to apply and when I finally got through, I was denied in minutes,” he said. “It feels like the government doesn’t care about you, and you’re alone in the middle of this pandemic. It isn’t a large sum of money but the longer this goes on, the more important it becomes for people like me who can’t work. The government should make good on their promise.”
Still unable to work, Milne has been using his time and machinery to help in the fight against COVID-19 by making face shields. He was initially paying for supplies out of his own pocket, but has since started fundraising to pay for materials.
Savanna Harvey is a theatre artist and live event producer in Calgary. When she was unable to work and asked to self-isolate, she applied for the emergency isolation support to make ends meet but was denied.
“It was obviously very distressing, not knowing if I was going to be able to pay for rent or groceries,” said Harvey, who was later able to apply for federal support. “There was a total lack of transparency. I was not given any explanation for why my application was denied. A friend of mine had his denial reversed, and yet when I called, I was told there was no reassessment. I feel like they abandoned me.”
According to a report from CBC News, senior government officials knew the website had limits and the structure of the program would leave some eligible Albertans unable to apply.