Canada | Future Emergency Benefit Programs Must Be Fair

On March 17, 2020, the Government of Alberta declared a state of public health emergency across the province as concerns over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic grew.  In the weeks that followed, the government responded further by implementing public health measures that drastically affected peoples’ lives at home, school and in the workplace.

People across all socio-economic standings were affected. Many Albertans experienced an interruption in their ability to earn income as businesses closed, jobs were lost, and parents stayed home to care for children. Alberta’s Emergency Isolation Support (EIS) Program offered temporary aid—a one-time payment benefit for Albertans who were unable to work due to a requirement to isolate or to care for a dependent who was isolating as a result of COVID-19.  The program, administered by the Ministry of Labour and Immigration with the assistance of the Ministry of Service Alberta, responded to the immediate nature of the circumstances and was developed quickly to meet the rising need. The cost of this program was significant and the government reported the benefit to Albertans was in excess of $108 million dollars.

Following various types of complaints regarding the EIS program, the Alberta Ombudsman launched an own motion investigation to look deeper into whether the application of the EIS program was administratively fair. The investigation looked into the application of the program policy, eligibility requirements, applicant assessment criteria, and how decisions were made and documented.

The Ombudsman’s investigation identified five key findings which resulted in two observations and seven recommendations being provided to Labour and Immigration for improvements.

“The Government of Alberta’s Emergency Isolation Support Program was unique, and the needs of Albertans had to be addressed quickly. We acknowledge the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and we realize the best of intentions lay at the heart of this program.  However, complaint processes during emergencies must reflect administrative fairness principles.”

“The Albertans we heard from experiencing loss of income and related hardships hoped the program would help them make ends meet. The recommendations we made in this case will ensure future rapid-response programs provide everyone in need with fair opportunity.”

Marianne Ryan, Alberta Ombudsman

While the investigation into the EIS program is closed, the Ombudsman’s office will monitor the implementation of the recommendations and by doing so ensure procedural fairness is accounted for in future emergency benefit programs.

The full report can be found here.

Source: Office of the Alberta Ombudsman, Canada

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