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Chilliwack woman on disability benefits teeters on the brink of homelessness

Off work with a bad hip, Rhonda Clough’s EI benefits are being clawed back by the B.C. government
Chilliwack’s Rhonda Clough is in a tough spot, with the provincial government clawing back Employment Insurance medical benefits she’s getting while waiting for hip replacement surgery. (submitted photo)

A Chilliwack woman with an arthritic hip finds herself in a desperate situation, relying on the kindness of friends, family and strangers to pay her bills.

Rhonda Clough is visually impaired, and she’s on B.C. Disability Assistance through the B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. She earns around $1,390 a month, and works part-time at a grocery store to supplement that income. The BC Employment and Assistance (BCEA) legislation allows for annual earnings of up to $15,000 a year, on top of a person’s disability cheques.

But recently, the 60-year-old has been forced to take time off work due to her hip. It has gotten so bad that she can barely walk, and it needs to be replaced.

Normally, a person in her situation would apply for Employment Insurance sickness benefits and receive 55 per cent of their earnings up to a maximum of $650 a week, for anywhere from 15 to 26 weeks. That would buy Clough enough time to get the surgery and have reasonable recovery time before going back to work. But Clough’s problem is that EI benefits get taken off her disability cheques dollar for dollar.

Contacted by The Progress, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction said Employment Insurance is considered unearned income and is not included in income exemptions, mirroring other provincial assistance programs across Canada.

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The result for Clough is that she’s not working and her disability cheques are being eaten away, leaving her on the brink of homelessness.

“I’ve been able to pay rent for June and July, but it’s a wing and a prayer after that and I’m very, very scared,” she said. “I don’t want to end up on the streets or in a shelter.”

Clough’s monthly rent alone is $1,450, which is $60 more than her disability cheque. She also has to worry about food, bills and other expenses. The wait list for hip surgery is around four months, and recovery is around two to four months. She’s without her supplementary income for at least that long.

Clough’s job will be waiting for her when she’s ready to return, but she doesn’t know what to do in the meantime.

“I’m very desperate at this point and I’m getting very depressed,” she said. “It’s no fault of my own that I need the (hip) surgery. Arthritis is arthritis and not something I’ve done to myself. It runs in my family, unfortunately.”

A friend of Clough’s started a GoFundMe at to help her out, aiming to raise $10,000.

“We are hoping to raise enough support for Rhonda so she can remain in her home and obtain her surgery without undue stress and worry,” Turgeon wrote. “If Rhonda was able to keep her employment insurance this would not be an issue but unfortunately this is not the case.

“But ironically, she can have a GoFundMe account with no penalties.”

Clough said she feels like a fool having to reach out to strangers for help, but she can’t see an alternative, and she said it was a Ministry employee who put the idea of a GoFundMe on her radar. The ministry said it will be reaching out to Clough to “see how she can be better supported,” and recommended anyone facing a similar challenge call 1-866-866-0800 or visit a ministry office in their community. Meanwhile, according to the ministry, “it is conducting a comprehensive review and has heard from over 10,000 people. Income and income exemptions and cases like this inform that work.”


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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