Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) employees have been working to process an unprecedented volume of Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) applications since the program started.
The federal government’s CERB offers individual Canadians $2,000 over a four-week period, up to a maximum of 16 weeks or four pay periods.
The relief program was developed and launched within three weeks, a record time for any program, said Ashley Clarke-Kelloway, a CRA spokesperson.
“It was a huge undertaking for the entire agency,” she said. “In the first week, we processed 3.5 million applications.”
The first day the federal government began taking applications, Clarke-Kelloway said the agency was processing about 1,000 applications per minute.
To help handle questions and concerns from Canadians, Clarke-Kelloway said the agency set up an additional contact centre.
Like many Canadians during COVID-19, CRA staff were forced to navigate the challenges of working from home, in addition to a high volume of applications and questions coming from people affected by the pandemic, she said.
Additional contact centre
“Across the agency we have about 42,000 employees and across the country about 7,000 employees stepped forward and offered to help out with this additional contact centre,” she said.
Clarke-Kelloway said that includes about 150 Island employees who put their names forward to offer the additional support.
“Across the agency all of us were extremely grateful but not surprised,” she said. “This is an unprecedented time and I think everybody just wanted to do what they could to help out.”
“I think it was a pretty overwhelmingly-positive response from union members, everybody recognized that this is about people and this is about Canadians in a very difficult time,” said Dan Aiken, local president for the Union of Taxation Employees.
The Charlottetown office, Aiken said, employs about 170 people, while the Summerside office has 900 workers.
Aiken said more people from the Island’s offices offered to help, but because of their home setups, they weren’t able to.
Adapting to an evolving situation
As the program was launched, information was changing rapidly because of the quickly evolving situation, but Aiken said the Island’s CRA agents have done a good job in communicating vital information to people.
“Every person that called in was very appreciative, and they were taking the time to thank us for what we were doing. So that felt very uplifting.”
In addition to CERB, Clarke-Kelloway reminded Islanders that the tax-filing deadline has been extended to June 1 and payment on outstanding taxes has also been pushed back.
She also noted extra payments have been made available for people receiving GST credits and Canada’s child benefit.