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Cancer survivors ‘scrambling’ after EI cuts: O’Mahony

A Chilliwack woman fighting breast cancer has been cut off unemployment insurance benefits before her medical treatment is over.

But Bev MacGregor’s plight is not an isolated case, said Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony, who has gone to bat for the Chilliwack resident, even though EI coverage is a federal matter.

“At present the maximum length of the EI sickness benefit is 15 weeks,” O’Mahony said in a Jan. 9 letter to MP Diane Finley, the federal minister of human resources and skills development.

“But the average length of breast cancer treatment is 38 weeks and can last much longer,” she said, leaving many in financial straits after they’ve fought and survived the disease.

O’Mahony urged the minister to take “immediate steps to improve EI coverage ... so more Canadians are not left scrambling to cover basic expenses while they undergo life-saving treatment.”

MacGregor said she was “absolutely ecstatic” to learn about O’Mahony’s letter of support.

“This is shameful that in Canada this is how we treat our sick people,” she said, pointing out that EI coverage is not free, but something every Canadian worker pays into.

MacGregor, a government employee until her job was cut, was told that her EI benefits would end Nov. 17, and that she had “forfeited” her eligibility for more because her treatment went beyond 15 weeks.

“My cancer wasn’t magically cured by Nov. 17,” she said. “I have no benefits.”

Since her cancer diagnosis in August, she’s had two surgeries and several chemotherapy sessions with five more to come.

But MacGregor says she is “one of the lucky ones” who has a network of friends and family helping her financially.

“I realize how fortunate I am, but when I hear all the other stories ... there are so many who don’t have the same support,” she said.

“People need to know about this, and be prepared,” she said.

O’Mahony told The Progress that since MacGregor went public with her story there has been a “groundswell of outrage” and many have called the MLA’s office, unaware that EI is under federal jurisdiction.

“They see a woman in need, and they contact my office,” she said.

MacGregor said she did meet with federal Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP, Mark Strahl, but he “dropped the ball” as far as she is concerned.

“I’m so proud of (O’Mahony) and I cannot thank her enough for taking the ball and running with it, instead of dropping it like Mr. Strahl did,” she said.

O’Mahony said part of the EI problem is the $54-billion cut from the program by the Conservative government to help pay down the national deficit.

At the time of the 2008 cut, NDP MP Libby Davies called it “theft” of money paid into the EI fund by Canadian workers.

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