Islander without transportation denied EI benefits

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 13, 2013

MONTAGUE — Like most Islanders, Marlene Giersdorf wants to be gainfully employed and take care of her nine-year-old son.

But the humble pride of the single mom exploded into tears here Friday when she took to the streets with a one woman protest and handmade signs.

The 30-year-old resident of Lower Montague is the first visible victim of the federal government’s Employment Insurance cutbacks. After finally getting her first EI check at the end of November, she’s now being cut off because she won’t go to Charlottetown to work.

Not because she won’t work, rather because she has no way to get there.

“I have no car because I can’t afford it and there’s no public transportation,’’ she said, fighting back tears while protesting in front of the Services Canada building here.

“Are they going to pay my taxi fare?”

Services Canada denied her benefits on those grounds and said her only option was to apply to the provincial government for welfare.

“I don’t want to go on income support,’’ she said, standing in freezing winds while cars drove by straining to read her signs. “I’ve always worked but I’ve just hit a bad spot right now.”

She’s knocked on the doors of the federal MP, taken her plight to the premier and even gone to the Human Rights Commission without success. She has less than $100 in her pocket.

Geirsdorf quit a job in the fall at a community care facility over the stress accompanying a 60-hour work week. Her old boss even provided a good, solid reference.

After living two months without an income, she got her first EI cheque in late November. Now, after barely cashing a few cheques and trying to catch up on the bills, she’s out in the cold with the federal changes.

She’s done supervisory work and management, worked in gas stations and coffee shops, and even taken upgrading and career management courses to better her chances. She’s applied to almost every business in Montague but few jobs are available.

“When I said I can’t get to town for a job, they cut me off and said go on welfare.”

Geirsdorf said if she had a car she would gladly accept a job in the capital city.

“I don’t go partying and drinking…I stay with my son,’’ she said sobbing. “I paid EI benefits with every job I worked and now I can’t get any help.”

She says her one person protest is to bring attention to the issue and she’s not the only Islander who will feel the effects of the federal changes.

“The worst part is high school kids driving by and yelling and laughing at me….they don’t realize it might be them one day.”

Marlene Geirsdorf of Lower Montague staged a protest in Montague after being denied EI benefits because she won't take a job in Charlottetown since she has no transportation to get to the city.

©uardian photo by Steve Sharratt