3. Social Assistance and EI
Both social assistance (welfare) and EI are income assistance programs, but EI and social assistance are delivered in isolation from one another by different levels of government—EI by the federal government and social assistance by provincial governments. Both are integral components of Canada’s social safety net, yet little is known about how these two programs interact. For example, we do not know how many people “fall” from EI to social assistance or between the systems’ cracks.
EI is like an insurance system because it provides support to contributors who lose their jobs. By contrast, social assistance is a last resort social safety net that is non-contributory (one’s ability to collect social assistance is not based on any past contribution to the system).
Currently these two programs target two different populations: EI targets individuals who have just lost stable employment, and social assistance targets individuals who have lost all means of supporting themselves. There may be people in need of assistance that fall between these two programs.
For example, individuals working sporadically usually cannot qualify for social assistance unless they leave employment almost completely. They also cannot receive EI because they are working. Another group is those who have exhausted EI benefits, who must lose nearly everything before qualifying for social assistance.
Scenario: EI Exhaustee
Robert, a single middle-aged man, worked in an auto plant for 25 years. He and his entire shift were laid-off. Robert received EI benefits for the maximum duration in his economic region. While looking for equivalent work, he was hoping that his shift would be hired back; this did not happen and his benefits expired before he found a new job.
In order to qualify for provincial social assistance, Robert would be forced to use up the great majority of his remaining savings and RRSPs, which he had spent a lifetime accumulating. He is unwilling to take this step.
Regardless, the benefits that Robert could receive from social assistance look small even next to the part-time minimum wage service sector jobs that are now his most likely work prospects. If Robert takes a part-time minimum wage service sector position, he would have inadequate income to cover his costs of living. This means he will be forced to rely on his savings, and he is unsure what he will do when they run out.