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Helping Families in Need Act Adopted Unanimously by House of Commons

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 11/20/12 -- The Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, today marked the unanimous adoption of the Helping Families in Need Act by the House of Commons. The Bill will now be studied by the Senate before receiving Royal Assent, the final step in the legislative process.

"The Harper Government is delivering on its commitment to further support hardworking Canadian families when they need it most," said Minister Finley. "The Helping Families in Need Act will help relieve the financial pressure on families during difficult times and make a real difference in their lives when they most need support."

The Helping Families in Need Act includes a new provision under the Employment Insurance (EI) Act that will make parents eligible for sickness benefits should they fall ill while collecting parental benefits. This new measure will benefit approximately 6000 Canadians per year.

The Bill would also create the new EI benefit for parents of critically ill or injured children and introduces amendments to the Canada Labour Code to protect the jobs of parents who take a leave of absence to care for a critically ill child.

The Bill also proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code to allow for unpaid leave and to protect the jobs of parents whose child dies or disappears as a result of a probable Criminal Code offence. These amendments support a new federal income support grant for parents who take a leave of absence to cope with such a situation.

These new measures expand on and complement other Harper Government supports for parents:

--  Foster parents who have committed to adopting foster children in their
    care have earlier access to parental benefits. 
--  Self-employed persons can opt into the EI program to receive maternity,
    parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits. 
--  Military families have improved access to EI parental benefits: members
    of the Canadian Forces who are ordered to return to duty while on
    parental leave or whose parental leave is deferred now have a window of
    up to 104 weeks following their child's birth or adoption in which to
    access part or all of their 35 weeks of EI parental benefits. 
--  Eligibility for the compassionate care benefit was extended to include
    additional family members and others considered as "family" by the
    person who is gravely ill. 
--  The Harper Government also provides assistance to parents through the
    Canada Child Tax Benefit and the Universal Child Care Benefit. 

This news release is available in alternative formats on request.

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IF THERE IS A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN ANY PRINTED VERSION AND THE ELECTRONIC VERSION OF THIS NEWS RELEASE, THE ELECTRONIC VERSION WILL PREVAIL.

BACKGROUNDER

The Helping Families in Need Act was tabled in the House of Commons on September 20, 2012, by the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. This Bill contains legislative amendments to the Employment Insurance (EI) Act and to the Canada Labour Code to support three measures that will help Canadian families balance work and family responsibilities. These measures are enhanced access to sickness benefits for parents receiving EI parental benefits; EI benefits for parents of critically ill children; and the Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children grant.

Enhanced access to EI sickness benefits

The EI Act will be amended to allow claimants who fall ill while receiving EI parental benefits to access EI sickness benefits.

Currently, to be eligible for sickness benefits under the EI program, claimants must "otherwise be available for work," or for self-employed persons, "otherwise be working" and have ceased working because of their illness. People on parental leave from their employer are not considered to be available for work, so they do not qualify for sickness benefits.

Under this Bill, the Government is waiving this requirement for parents receiving EI parental benefits so that they can qualify for sickness benefits if they fall ill, subject to remaining qualifying criteria. This change enhances access to EI sickness benefits and ensures that the EI program continues to be fair and flexible to better respond to the needs of Canadian families.

Sickness benefits (15 weeks maximum) may be paid to a person who is unable to work because of sickness, injury or quarantine.

EI special benefit for parents of critically ill children

This new EI benefit will provide income support for up to 35 weeks to eligible parents caring for a child (under 18 years of age) with a critical illness or injury. The benefit was announced August 7, 2012, and will be available in June 2013, subject to the adoption of this Bill by Parliament.

As with other EI special benefits, claimants will need to have worked a minimum of 600 insurable hours in the last year. Self-employed workers who have opted into the EI program will need to have earned income in the previous calendar year ($6,342 in 2013) to be eligible for the benefit. All applicants will also need to submit a medical certificate signed by a Canadian-certified pediatrician or medical specialist.

This benefit may be shared between parents within a 52-week period. Benefits will end after one of these conditions is reached: the maximum of 35 weeks of benefits have been paid; the 52-week benefit period ends; the child's condition improves to the point where parental care or support for the condition is no longer required; or in the unfortunate event that the child passes away.

Amendments to the Canada Labour Code

Part III of the Canada Labour Code will be amended to introduce new provisions allowing unpaid leave for parents whose child dies or disappears as the result of a probable Criminal Code offence or who need to care for a critically ill child. Employees whose employer is subject to Part III who take advantage of the new enhanced provisions will be able to do so without losing their employment as a result. The amendments to the Canada Labour Code will take effect in June 2013, pending the adoption of this Bill by Parliament.

Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children

Once the amendments proposed in this Bill take effect, a new grant will also be made available, beginning on January 1, 2013. This new grant will provide $350 per week for up to 35 weeks to parents of murdered or missing children (less than 18 years of age) whose death or disappearance is the result of a probable Criminal Code offence.

To receive this taxable grant, announced April 20, 2012, affected parents will need to have earned a minimal level of income in the previous calendar year ($6,500) and take leave from their employment.

If the missing child is found while the grant is being received, the grant will continue for two weeks to allow the parents to spend time with their child. This will be contingent on meeting other entitlement criteria (that is, the recipients have not resumed working, they have not exhausted their benefits, and it has not been more than one year since the disappearance).

Contacts:
Alyson Queen
Office of Minister Finley
819-994-2482

Media Relations Office
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
819-994-5559

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