The federal government projects that changes to employment insurance will cost Yukoners $4.2 million annually in benefits, according to documents obtained by the office of Liberal MP Sean Casey through an access-to-information request.
The new rules, which came into effect this week, will affect more than half of EI claimants living in Whitehorse, and cost each of those affected an average of about $4,700 in lost benefits.
Previously, you had to have worked 420 hours in the past year to qualify for employment insurance in the Yukon. Now that’s up to 700.
Also, the maximum time someone can collect benefits will go down to 36 weeks, instead of 45.
Eligibility for employment insurance across the country depends on the unemployment rate in the region where a claimant lives.
In the past, Yukon’s rate was arbitrarily set at 25 per cent, in part due to the statistical challenges presented by a small sample size.
The actual rate in Whitehorse is closer to five percent, and 12.8 per cent in the communities.
Under the new rules, the government will now calculate eligibility according to the actual unemployment rates.
For Whitehorse residents, that means swinging from the most generous eligibility rules in the country to the least generous.
Yukon as a whole has the third lowest unemployment rate of any province or territory in the country.
Whitehorse is considered a separate economic zone from the communities, and benefits in the communities are not projected to be significantly affected.
The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition says the changes will hurt Whitehorse families.
“To take away from it is another slap to groups like the working poor and low-income families and people in poverty,” said co-chair Bill Thomas in an interview yesterday.
“I’m very unhappy about those cutbacks.”
While the federal government says these changes only bring the territories in line with rules elsewhere in the country, Thomas said that doesn’t recognize the unique challenges of living in the North.
Yukon’s generous transfer payment from the federal government, too, is a form of income support for the territory, and it is projected to rise in the coming years, said Thomas.
That is a recognition that Yukon’s circumstances merit special treatment, he said.
“I don’t think the coalition can advocate anything that will reduce income support in the territory, with all the challenges and requirements that are needed up here.”
The anti-poverty coalition launched it’s annual Poverty and Homelessness Action Week campaign yesterday.
The focus this year is on food security.
Twenty-three per cent of Yukon children were identified as having not enough food in a 2011 survey, according to the coalition.
The Salvation Army served 1,248 plates of food over one week in September this year.
The Whitehorse Food Bank has 1,307 individuals as registered clients, a 9.5 per cent increase from last year.
“People are hungry, and it really isn’t good enough for a community of our size and our wealth to not be able to feed ourselves and be well housed,” said Kristina Craig, co-ordinator of the coalition, at a press conference Thursday.
The greatest increase in food bank users has been people in rental housing.
That is likely the same category of Yukoner that will be hit the hardest by the new employment insurance rules.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at