It is one of the things you pay into and never really give it too much thought UNLESS it happens to you.

You become unemployed. The first question you should ask yourself is whether you’re eligible for employment insurance.

The answer is yes if you were: employed in insurable employment, the job loss was not fault of your own, you have been without work or pay for seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks as well as worked for the required number of insurable hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter. The assumption here is that you are ready, willing and able to work and you are actually looking for work.

Here's where it gets a little dicey, you may not be entitled to benefits if you left your employer without cause, were dismissed due to misconduct or you are unemployed due to a labour dispute such as a strike or lockout.

Given these parameters, there are many, especially in Eastern Canada and in the Energy sector, who have lost their job through no fault of their own. It is tough and while this doesn't solve the problem, changes to EI will help to ease the pain a little.

The Liberal government unveiled big changes to the program in an effort to target people who most need the financial safety net. Some of the highlights include a pledge to extend regular EI benefits by five weeks to all eligible claimants to a maximum of 50 weeks.

For long-tenured workers, there's more help, an additional 20 weeks of regular EI benefits to a maximum of 70 weeks. This will commence in July. The changes target specific regions were the jobless rate increased by 2 per cent or more between March 2015 and February 2016. Those regions include Newfoundland and Labrador, large parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, but also parts of B.C., Ontario and Manitoba.

The waiting period for EI claimants before they start receiving benefits is currently two weeks. It will be reduced to one. And a highlight of the program is a pilot program underway that will be extended to 2018 allowing people to keep 50 cents of the EI benefits for every dollar they earn.

The requirement to accept lower pay and longer commuting times the longer you rely on EI will be eliminated, but you still need to conduct job search activities and accept suitable employment should it become available while on EI.

Even with the government spending over $2.5B over the next two years, for those losing high paying jobs in highly skilled fields, this isn't going to help and it is going to be tough to get by on EI alone. Benefits are 55% of your average insurable weekly earnings and the maximum earnings amount is $50,800 resulting in a max amount of $537 per week.

What is needed are jobs. So, if you are still currently working and yet feel vulnerable, here are a couple of things to shore up the balance sheet:

  • Reassess your financial situation, understand your budget and where you are spending your money
  • Trim the budget now to boost your emergency savings
  • Discuss a mortgage payment suspension with your financial institution or explore mortgage insurance
  • Obtain a line of credit or credit card - don't use it, but have it just in case. When you need it you might not be in a position to qualify.
  • Start to network and volunteer. It is so easy to become insular during difficult periods when you need it most to connect, share and explore.