PRINCE RUPERT, Sept 9, 2021 — Following months of delays, online application problems, and little DFO assistance, UFAWU-Unifor is calling for an extension to the second Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program application and appeal deadline.
“The COVID-19 pandemic caused a market collapse and prevented harvesting in many areas,” UFAWU-Unifor President James Lawson says. “Everyone but harvesters received their benefits in 2020 and now they are desperate.”
Initially, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that applications for the second benefit were to be filed during a six-month window.
“The second application for the Benefit portion of the program must be submitted between April 1 and October 1, 2021,” DFO stated on their website. “Otherwise, the harvester will be deemed ineligible to have received their first payment and that initial payment will be considered an over-payment that must be paid back to the Government of Canada.”
However, multiple delays saw the application not opened until Aug 5, 2021, providing harvesters with less than two months to submit their applications.
“This may sound like enough time to complete an application or appeal,” UFAWU-Unifor Organizer Christina Nelson says. “But a host of problems with the online application process have made it very difficult for harvesters to complete.”
These problems include a number of vague error messages prompting harvesters to call Service Canada for help.
When attempting to access assistance, harvesters have reported clogged phone lines and spending multiple hours on hold.
It has also been reported that approximately a quarter of benefit applicants Canada-wide have been denied with little explanation.
“Harvesters aren’t being denied benefits based on a lack of eligibility,” Nelson says. “But rather based on trivial issues with their tax forms.”
With the end date for appeals set for Sept 15, 2021, many potentially eligible harvesters now face the imminent possibility of receiving no assistance or being made to repay past benefits.
In response to these issues, UFAWU-Unifor is calling on DFO to extend the application and appeal deadline to December. The Union is also requesting that DFO shorten their phone-assistance wait times, fix their online application errors, and better explain the reasoning behind application denials.
“The DFO needs to fix this mess,” Lawson says. “Harvesters need these benefits to survive.”
UFAWU-Unifor representatives are available for comment. For more information please contact UFAWU-Unifor Communications Organizer Liam Hill-Allan at firstname.lastname@example.org.