Albertans’ daily lives have been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Strict health restrictions were needed to protect the health of individuals and those most vulnerable in our communities and to manage the spread of the virus. This, however, caused an unprecedented impact on business’ ability to stay open and Albertans’ ability to continue to work. Many Albertans were restricted from working, which affected their ability to support themselves and their families.
On March 18, 2020 the Alberta government announced the Emergency Isolation Support (EIS) program, which opened for applications March 25th. The program’s objective was to quickly provide financial support to ensure working Albertans required to self-isolate did so rather than go to their place of work and increase the spread of COVID-19. The one-time EIS program provided financial relief until the federal Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) became available for Albertans at the beginning of April 2020. The Department of Labour and Immigration was responsible for delivering the program.
The primary focus of the department was to promptly provide financial support to isolating working Albertans. To do so, the department accepted risks that normally would require a more comprehensive process or control to mitigate. The department relied on applicant declarations they were eligible for the EIS benefit rather than examine an individual’s supporting documentation before approving payment. The department would request supporting information from a sample of applicants after payments were issued. There is a higher degree of risk some individuals would exploit this process to fraudulently obtain government funding they are not eligible for.
Objective and Scope
Our audit objective was to assess the effectiveness of the department’s processes to make payments to eligible applicants under the Emergency Isolation Support Program.
We conclude the department had processes to make payments to applicants assessed as eligible under the EIS program, but not all these processes were effective.
We did not make recommendations as the EIS was a one-time program. However, our findings, including automating controls, load testing online applications, flexibility to correct mistakes and fully confirming applicant residency, can serve as learnings for government in the design of future emergency payment programs.
We did not audit the department’s EIS post-payment eligibility verification process as it is still ongoing. Applicants needed to retain support for their eligibility for two years after receiving payment. We will examine the results of the post-payment verification as part of our audit of the department’s 2021–2022 financial reporting and program results analysis in the department’s 2021-22 annual report. At the time of writing, the department is unable to assert how much of the EIS benefit was paid to ineligible individuals.