Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O'Mahony has taken up the cause of two local women faced with financial hardship because of cancer.
In an open letter sent Wednesday to federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills and Development Diane Finley, the provincial NDP MLA called on the federal government to improve employment insurance (EI) coverage to help people undergoing cancer treatment.
"This is the reason the program exists," wrote O'Mahony, "and it's crucial that your government take action so that more Canadians are not left scrambling to cover basic expenses while they undergo lifesaving treatment."
O'Mahony's letter was sparked by the story of local single mother and grandmother Bev MacGregor, whose plight was featured in a November Times article.
MacGregor's EI sickness benefits ran out just before her first round of chemotherapy for breast cancer in November; she then found out she didn't qualify for federal Canadian Pension Plan disability benefits and faced losing her small townhouse during her recovery.
O'Mahony's letter points out that MacGregor is not alone, citing the case of another local woman who was forced to return to work three weeks after surgery against her doctor's recommendations after her claim for EI sickness benefits was denied.
"Other stories have also come to our attention, showing the depth of this problem reaches well beyond a few isolated incidents," O'Mahony wrote.
Though O'Mahony's letter makes no specific recommendations, Mac-Gregor told the Times she appreciates the local MLA taking up her cause, including a personal visit from O'Mahony Wednesday.
"I just really applaud her for picking up the ball," MacGregor said. "I haven't had any luck anywhere else."
In early November MacGregor had brought her concerns to Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl.
Strahl had helped defeat a private members bill in February aimed at increasing EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks, but he wrote a letter supporting MacGregor's application for CPP disability benefits and said he would pass her concerns about EI on to the federal minister.
MacGregor said that hasn't happened.
Strahl told the Times in November that he had voted against expanding EI because a massive increase in federal benefits like EI or CPP wouldn't be fiscally responsible.
He added that provincial governments also need to take on some of the burden of helping people like MacGregor.
MacGregor, for her part, would like to see more co-ordination between the federal and provincial governments when it comes to helping people in her position.
"Maybe it can be a combined effort, both provincially and federally, that something come into place," she said. "There should be some compassionate ways of collecting benefits."
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