The federal government is closing the network of Service Canada centers in person due to concerns related to COVID-19.
Some offices, such as the one inside Ottawa City Hall, have already started to close as confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased and workers were needed elsewhere, or felt unwell comfortable going there due to health issues.
The Liberals say this decision, announced Thursday evening, should not affect most unemployed workers who apply for EI benefits because the vast majority of claims are made online.
In addition, a new benefit for those who are not eligible for employment insurance but who see their income exhausted due to COVID-19 will be available via an online application. The web portal is expected to open early next month.
The Minister responsible for Service Canada says that officials will make other arrangements for those who still need personalized services – a group that generally includes seniors and Aboriginal peoples.
Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government’s service delivery model should reflect the fact that Canadians have to stay at home because of public health issues.
“At a time when we are asking most Canadians to stay at home, we need to make sure that our service delivery model follows the best advice from public health, while meeting the needs of Canadians,” he said. he said in a statement.
“We recognize that this could be a challenge for some Canadians who prefer to receive services in person. I want to assure Canadians that we are committed to ensuring that they all have access to the supports they need and that they deserve. “
Hussen said office staff will focus on answering questions about call centers instead. Others will be available to call people directly on request to assist with EI and pension applications.
Service centers see increased demand
“This will allow more Canadians to get the support they need, while better protecting them and our staff,” said the release.
Unions representing center workers, who urged the government to better protect front-line workers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
WATCH | Who is eligible for COVID-19 emergency benefits:
The network of 318 Service Canada centers, as well as almost 250 other outreach centers, received approximately 8.4 million visits during the 12-month period between April 2018 and March 2019. The figure, noted in an evaluation recently published federal services, included more than 1.9 million people who enter to use a self-service kiosk.
Demand for Service Canada has increased in the past few days, as more than one million new EI claims have arrived in just over a week as businesses close due to public health concerns or requirements and let workers go.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday acknowledged the frustration many of these Canadians are feeling when trying to obtain information about their request for financial assistance, saying in his daily press conference that officials were working 24 hours a day to process requests.
He noted that workers had been deployed to other departments to strengthen the ranks of answering machines in the flooded call centers.