Some people are questioning recent changes to the Community Enhancement Employment Program (CEEP).
The provincially-funded program is intended to supply short term work to assist people with eligibility for Employment Insurance benefits (EI).
This year, workers in rural areas can be employed for up to 400 hours, working on projects that contribute to local economic development such as tourism, municipal infrastructure and community services. In past years, CEEP grants were good for up to 420 hours, which is exactly what a worker needs to qualify for EI.
The reduction by 20 hours means that someone who needs to get more than 400 hours in order to qualify for EI is ineligible for the CEEP jobs that are currently becoming available through the program.
The change has been difficult for Shauna Strickland, economic development strategist with the Town of Port aux Basques.
“It has been challenging,” she said. “There were a lot of applications received that didn’t qualify under the new regulations. We had some people that needed small amounts of hours which was fine, but the bulk of resumes received were from people requiring 420 hours.”
In Isle aux Morts, town clerk Lydia Francis is feeling the pinch. For her, the problem isn’t just the maximum number of hours available. They are also operating on limited funds.
“We only got $12,500, which is not going to be enough money to keep people employed long enough to get their required hours,” she said.
When a spokeswoman for the Department of Municipal Affairs was asked why the provincial government had changed the limit by 20 hours, this newspaper was directed to a document on the Community Enhancement Employment Program website.
The document is available at http://www.ma.gov.nl.ca/ma/emp_support/ceep.html. It does not explain the reason for the 20-hour reduction.
Despite the change, employment officers like Mrs. Strickland are working with within the guidelines of the program.
“We’ve moved forward and we do have some workers on site right now,” she said. “We’ve also got a list of names of people that need the 420 hours and that list will be sent over to our MHA. At the end of the day, they will be the ones lobbying for the change because is was a government change and not a municipal change.”