British Columbians stuck waiting for their COVID-19 recovery benefit may be waiting for a long time.
New figures from the Ministry of Finance show the program is facing an enormous backlog, with one out of every three applications flagged for “review” by civil servants.
Once set aside for review, applicants are asked for additional information in an attempt to match their income and personal data with their 2019 tax returns from the Canada Revenue Agency.
It’s here where the program seems to grind to an almost complete halt.
One month after applications opened, only 13 per cent of cases flagged for review have actually made it through the review process and resulted in any money being paid, according to the data.
“Applications can be flagged for manual review for a variety of reasons, including a change in marital status, numbers provided do not match up with information that the government has on file, errors in an application or transposed numbers,” said the ministry in a statement to CHEK News.
Premier John Horgan expressed frustration at the delays on Thursday, but added the province has hired additional staff to tackle the backlog and applications remain open until June to sort out any issues.
But as CHEK News reported Thursday, that is cold comfort to thousands of people stuck waiting for a tax-free cash payment of up to $1,000 that Horgan had promised would be available in time for Christmas.
The Opposition Liberals have accused the NDP government of bungling the program and being dishonest about its timeline.
Not everyone was held up though, almost one million applications for the benefit have been approved since the program opened Dec. 18, 2020, representing as many as 1.5 million people, according to government figures.
However, during that same time, more than 490,000 applications were flagged for review.
Of that total, only 65,000 applications have made their way through the verification process and led to a payment of money to the applicant, says the ministry. An additional 85 applications have been denied.
“If an individual moved to B.C. in 2020, we may not have access to their CRA data automatically. We understand the frustration some people are feeling about their application status. We have added additional staff and will continue to add more if needed to help clear the backlog,” said the ministry Friday.
The government needs the Canada Revenue Agency data because it designed the program to base applicant eligibility on income levels from 2019 tax returns.
Finance Minister Selina Robinson said that was the only practical way to quickly launch a payment program while avoiding fraud. But critics have said it means those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 in 2020 aren’t eligible for the benefit because the income cutoffs are based on 2019 tax data.
The recovery benefit was a marquee promise of the NDP government in October’s election campaign. It has a budget of $1.7 billion. So far, $680 million has been paid out to successful applicants.
The ministry was unable to say how long it will take to clear the backlog.