As one of thousands of volunteers working at the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit call centre during one of the most stressful times in the country’s history, Amanda Nemer didn’t know what to expect.
Years ago, she worked in another federal government call centre for employment services, so she knew how difficult over-the-phone work could become, for both the people needing help and those trying to give it.
This time around, however, Nemer says the conversations she’s been having give her hope that the country is banding together to overcome the COVID-19 crisis.
“Obviously these are unprecedented, uncertain times and people have been so thankful and grateful,” said Nemer, who also works as a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) director on top of the call centre volunteer work. “They’re anxious, but the majority of time they’re happy to have someone on the other end of the line to listen.”
The federal government rolled out the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in late March, as public health measures to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses across the country. It provides $2,000 a month for four months to people who have lost their jobs, are sick or caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19, among other requirements.
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Monday marked the first day Canadians could apply for CERB. To prepare for an influx of questions, the CRA put out a call for volunteers to bolster the 3,000 existing call centre staff. About 7,000 people stepped up, said a government official.
“The fact people are kind and supportive in these times makes me proud to live in Canada and work with a ton of dedicated colleagues who put in a lot of hard work,” Nemer said.
On the busiest days, the CRA has thousands of requests per minute, including people applying for CERB online or through the automated telephone line. Those with questions speak to volunteers like Nemer, who try their best to answer.
“What’s also touching is the number of people who will thank me profusely and tell me to stay safe and healthy … and give some goodness in this uncertainty,” she said. “I know these people are going through a lot, but they’re just as concerned about me as I am them. It’s really heartwarming.”