The appeal deadline for the Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program has been extended by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to Oct.1 from Sept. 15 following months of delays and online application issues.
The United Fishermen & Allied Workers’ Union-Unifor (UFAWU-Unifor) called for the extension to the second Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program application and appeal deadline in a media release on Sept. 9.
The appeal process has been plagued by an “online application nightmare” and a “communication cluster,” Christina Nelson, benefit fund director for UFAWU-Unifor’s Prince Rupert office, told The Northern View.
“This is good news for those who need to appeal. But still doesn’t address the other issues,” Liam Hill-Allan, communications organizer for the union, said.
Problems included multiple vague error messages prompting harvesters to call Service Canada for help. The error messages numbered seven, 10 and 12, offered no definition. This left many harvesters clueless about what they had done wrong in their application process because they offered no explanation, Nelson said.
“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,” UFAWU-Unifor stated.
The extension will now have additional time to file overpayment appeals, the DFO said.
“Individuals who received overpayment letters early in the second round of the program cannot, by definition, apply in the second round, and so must proceed via the appeal process should they wish to dispute their overpayment notices and seek the second round benefit payment,” they stated.
Harvesters must contact Service Canada to notify an agent about their “intention to initiate an appeal.” Harvesters will then be contacted by a Service Canada representative. At that point, should the individual still wish to appeal, the file will be forwarded to the DFO.
“Following the receipt of the relevant documents and information, DFO will render a decision on the appeal within 30 working days,” the agency stated, adding staff may request appellants for further documentation.
Norman Galimski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View