Understanding Employment Insurance changes

By Sheryl Smolkin

All employed Canadians and their employers must contribute to the federally-operated Employment Insurance plan. So if you lose your job, three of the first questions you will likely ask are:

  • How much can I expect to receive from EI?
  • How long do I have to wait?
  • For how many weeks can I receive benefits?

Generally in 2016, you get 55% of your previous income, up to a maximum of $537 per week after a two-week waiting period. You can receive EI  for 14 weeks up to a maximum of 45 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate in your region at the time of filing your claim and the amount of insurable hours you have accumulated in the last 52 weeks or since your last claim, whichever is shorter.

However, in the March 2016 budget, the Liberal government announced some key changes  that will make collecting EI a bit easier in some situations. For example:

  1. Eliminating new entrant, re-entrant rules: The Government amended the rules to eliminate the higher EI eligibility requirements that restricted access for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market. As of July 3, 2016 new entrants to the workforce (think young workers getting their first jobs) or re-entrants (think stay-at-home parents who are going back into the workforce) have been required to work between 420 to 700 hours over the previous 52 weeks to qualify for employment insurance, depending on labour conditions in their area of the country. That’s a reduction from the previous 910 hours.
  2. Two week waiting period reduced to one week: The EI waiting period is a period of time that must be served before a claimant can begin to receive EI benefits.  It has been set at two weeks since 1971. The reduction of the waiting period applies to regular, fishing and special benefits such as sick benefits, maternity and parental benefits. However, the number of weeks of EI benefit entitlement will not change.
  3. New Working While on Claim pilot project: Between August 7, 2016 and August 11, 2018,  EI claimants collecting regular, fishing, compassionate care or benefits for the care of critically-ill children have two options that will allow them to earn some additional income while they are on claim. Under the “default rule,” the claimant keeps 50 cents of EI benefits for every dollar earned in wages, up to a maximum of 90 per cent of his/her previous weekly earnings (or, roughly four and a half days of work).. Above this cap, benefits are reduced dollar-for-dollar. The “default rule” will automatically apply to claims. Otherwise, claimants can choose the “optional rule which allows them to keep the equivalent of up to roughly one day’s work (defined as $75 or 40 per cent of the benefit rate, whichever is greater) without any deduction from their benefits. Any amount earned above the equivalent of roughly one day’s work will be deducted dollar-for-dollar from benefits.
  4. Simplifying job search responsibilities for EI claimants: The Government reversed the 2012 changes to the EI program that strictly defined the job search responsibilities of unemployed workers and forced them to move away from their communities and take lower paying jobs. Nevertheless, long-standing requirements that claimants must search for and accept available work while on EI will continue to be upheld. This change came into effect on July 3, 2016.
  5. Extending EI regular benefits for regions affected by commodities downturn: Dramatic declines in global commodity prices since late 2014 have produced sharp and sustained unemployment shocks in commodity-based regions. In response, through Budget 2016, the Government made temporary legislative changes to extend the duration of EI regular benefits by 5 weeks, up to a maximum of 50 weeks of benefits, for all eligible claimants in the 15 EI economic regions (including Saskatchewan) that have experienced the sharpest and most severe increases in unemployment.

The Government also made legislative changes to offer up to an additional 20 weeks of EI regular benefits to long-tenured workers in the same 15 EI economic regions, up to a maximum of 70 weeks of benefits. These benefits became available for one year, beginning in July 2016, and will apply to anyone who started a claim for regular EI benefits on or after January 4, 2015, and is still unemployed.

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