MS Society applauds federal government’s extension of EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks
TORONTO, ON (December 7, 2022) – The Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Canada welcomes the federal government’s decision to extend the Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks, effective on December 18. This extension, as initially promised in Budget 2021, is a much-needed step towards improved income support and employment security for the more than 90,000 Canadians who live with MS and their families. The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, announced this change to the EI system at a live event on November 25, which included remarks from Benjamin Davis, Senior Vice President, Mission of the MS Society, and MS Ambassador Julia Stewart.
For years, the MS Society and its partners have called on the federal government to modernize EI sickness benefits, including extending the number of weeks available under the benefit. The current limit of 15 weeks has remained in place since the 1970s and does not consider the episodic nature of disabilities like MS. Many Canadians living with MS face a pattern of unpredictable relapses and remissions that impact their ability to work. Since it is impossible to predict when a relapse will occur or how long a relapse will last, the 15-week limit often falls short of the yearly recovery time needed for a person living with MS.
“We are excited to see the permanent extension of EI sickness benefits to 26 weeks, a crucial change for Canadians living with episodic disabilities including multiple sclerosis. With more than 60 per cent of people living with MS eventually reaching unemployment, this is a step towards improving critical income and disability supports,” said Dr. Pamela Valentine, President & CEO of the MS Society of Canada. “This benefit will give people the flexibility required to stay connected to their workplace as they manage the unpredictability of MS. This is the result of collective voices working together towards change. We thank Minister Qualtrough for listening to those voices and taking action as we work together to improve the lives of all Canadians affected by MS.”
The limitations of the current EI system have left many with the difficult decision of focusing on their health and recovery or potentially losing their jobs. Julia Stewart of New Brunswick was diagnosed with MS in 2004 and has had an employer that did not understand the episodic nature of MS and the need for flexibility. The 11-week extension to EI sickness benefits provides a safety net for people like Julia.
“The anxiety of not knowing when or how long my MS symptoms may last is more than enough; but, on top of worrying about my health, I have always worried about my employment. For far too long we’ve been stuck with the idea that disability is an on/off switch – of being able to work or unable. These changes to the EI sickness benefits will give someone like me the protection and additional time I need to fully recover from a relapse, easing some of the stress associated with an unpredictable disease like MS,” Julia said.
While extension of EI sickness benefits is a critical step towards enhanced employment security, there is a need for improved flexibility of the benefit for people with episodic disabilities, like MS. The current 600 hours of work needed to be eligible for EI sickness benefits does not recognize that many people with MS have precarious employment that fails to generate the minimum hours requirement between periods of disability. For those who do have the hours to qualify for the benefit, there is currently a one-week waiting period for financial support which creates unnecessary hardships. The MS Society continues to advocate for a reduction of the hours needed for eligibility from 600 to 400, along with a removal of the one-week waiting period and the claw back in the Working While on Claim Provision.
The MS Society will continue to work with the federal government and partners on improving EI system for people living with disabilities and building on the expansion of EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks. This extension is one step forward towards enhanced employment security and financial support for the one in 400 Canadians who live with MS.
- For information about EI sickness benefits: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-sickness.html.
- For more information about existing EI sickness benefits and what this change will mean for those currently receiving sickness benefits, contact Employment and Social Development Canada at 1-800-206-7218 or use the eServiceCanada form: https://eservices.canada.ca/en/service/
- To watch a recording of the announcement from Employment and Social Development Canada: https://fb.watch/h4UamBqElx/
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About multiple sclerosis and the MS Society of Canada
Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world. On average, 12 Canadians are diagnosed every day. MS is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord). It is considered an episodic disability meaning that the severity and duration of illness and disability can vary and are often followed by periods of wellness. It can also be progressive. Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 49 and the unpredictable effects of the disease will last for the rest of their lives. The MS Society provides information, support and advocacy to people affected by MS, and funds research to find the cause and cure for the disease, bringing us closer to a world free of MS. Please visit mssociety.ca or call 1-800-268-7582 for more information, to get involved, or to support Canadians affected by MS by making a donation.