British Columbia

B.C. man's income benefits slashed from 45 to 15 weeks after cancer diagnosis

Less than a fortnight after losing his job and registering for Employment Insurance benefits, Steve Boissoin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and saw his temporary income support cut as a result.

‘It’s just crushing to me at this point of my life,’ says Steve Boissoin

Steve Boissoin with his wife and five-year-old daughter. He was the main breadwinner in his family and now worries about losing his home since his income support was reduced. (Submitted by Steve Boissoin)

Less than a fortnight after losing his job and registering for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, Steve Boissoin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and saw his temporary income support cut as a result. 

The Kelowna man had gone to the emergency room for a check-up for pelvic pain. He was immediately admitted to the hospital with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"At that point, I wasn't even thinking about EI — I was thinking 'Oh my god, I've got cancer," said Boissoin, who is married with a five-year-old daughter.

"It was a crazy ride for my family and I and the last thing we needed was any type of security removed."

After his cancer diagnosis, the Kelowna man found out he was no longer eligible for the 45 weeks of regular EI benefits he had been receiving because he's not considered "ready, willing and capable of working each day."

Instead, Boissoin's claim was switched to EI sickness benefits, which cover 15 weeks of income support. The first stage of his chemotherapy treatment lasts 20 weeks.

"After five weeks, as of today, I will be cut off," he told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Common experience for cancer patients

Tom McNeil, a medical social worker with Cape Breton Cancer Centre, is conducting research on cancer patients who are on EI sick benefits.

McNeil said Boissoin's case is far from unusual.

Many people are shocked and surprised when they find out income support is significantly shorter for an illness than regular unemployment, McNeil said.

"Generally, the problem is 15 weeks does not get you through cancer treatment," he said. "It's fine for a broken leg maybe but it's not when you are dealing with a life threatening illness."

Steve Boissoin is still in treatment for cancer. He says the financial stresses he faces makes recovery more difficult. (Submitted by Steve Boissoin )

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm walking into my doctor's and saying 'Can you give me a letter saying that I'm able to look for work? I'll start looking for work right now.'"

He is still undergoing treatment, however, and is laid up for days at a time.

Political change

He reached out to his MP Stephen Fuhr for assistance but said he did not receive a satisfactory response back.  

Fuhr says there is little he can do to change the situation. 

"I feel a lot of empathy and compassion for him personally and his family," Fuhr said. "I really wish I could pull a rabbit out of the hat for him but this requires a policy change at the end of the day."

With files from Christina Low and Daybreak South.

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