British Columbia

Cancer patient wants EI sickness benefits extended

A B.C. woman is pushing for longer Employment Insurance benefits for people battling life-threatening illnesses, so they aren't left in sickness and poverty after a lifetime of paying their dues.

Bev MacGregor discovered cancer treatment will last twice as long as her EI benefits

A Chilliwack woman is cut off from Employment Insurance before her treatment finishes 2:08

A B.C. woman is pushing for longer Employment Insurance benefits for people battling life-threatening illnesses, so they aren't left in sickness and poverty after a lifetime of paying their dues.  

Chilliwack resident Bev MacGregor was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer.

"They did a needle biopsy. September 12th I was told I had two tumours that were both cancerous. September 27th they removed my left breast and 10 lymph nodes," she recalls.

Since her mastectomy she's been undergoing chemotherapy, which is expected to continue for several more months.

But along with dealing with the chemo, she is now also struggling to pay her bills.

"I've worked here my whole life almost and paid into the system and paid my taxes, paid my dues, and I'm kicked to the curb and there's nowhere to go," she told CBC News.

That's because sickness benefits are limited to 15 weeks, meaning her Employment Insurance benefits ran out before Christmas.

That's why MacGregor is now pushing the federal government to extend EI sickness benefits for those battling a life-threatening illness.

"You shouldn't be allowed only 15 weeks. I mean you can't miraculously be cured of cancer in 15 weeks."

No easy way out

MacGregor was actually eligible to receive EI until March when she was laid off by a software company that was downsizing in July.

But once she was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment those benefits were immediately cut short.

The single mother also owns her own condo and has a small amount saved in RSSP, so she is not eligible for social assistance until she drains all her assets first.

She also applied for federal disability assistance, but was not at her last job long enough to reach the minimum 600 hours required to qualify.

That's why the 52-year-old thinks the EI benefits she contributed to all her life should be there to help her out.

"It's just wrong. We pay into that EI and it should be there to help us," she said. 

Chilliwack-Hope NDP MLA Gwen O'Mahony is supporting MacGregor's push for improved EI benefits, but notes employment insurance is a federal issue.

"The federal government has got to look at these situations with compassion and they need to relax these rules for women such as Bev," said O'Mahony.

Federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley was not available for an interview on Friday.

Her ministry did send an email to O'Mahony on Friday, saying the matter will be given proper consideration.