VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The federal government has announced a new employment insurance program for parents with critically ill or injured children. The new EI special benefit will provide income support for up to 35 weeks.

The program was announced in Vancouver today by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Experience shows us that critically ill children do better and get better when their parents are with them,” he says. “Let me be blunt, families are the foundation of our country, and our government is committed to supporting them.”

Parents or legal guardians with children under 18 years of age are eligible for the program. All applicants will need to submit a medical certificate signed by a Canadian-certified pediatrician or doctor.

Applicants will need to have worked at least 600 hours in the last year and take leave from their employment. Self-employed workers who have opted into the EI program will need to have earned at least $6,222 in the previous calendar year.

The Canadian Cancer Society says it has been hoping for many years for a program like the one the PM announced today.

“You can imagine when you get the diagnosis that your child is critically ill that you are certainly thinking about the child first,” says the Society’s Dan Demers. “But very quickly you have to worry about your job, your financial well-being, all the other things that add pressure to the normal daily lives of Canadians.”

He suspects the move will have a huge impact on families and allow parents and guardians to focus their energy on helping children get better.

“And when the situation does turn out well, as we all hope it does, they’ll be able to go back to their jobs and they’ll be able to make sure that they’ve kept the financial well-being of their family intact.”

The CEO of Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver also attended the announcement to support the new program, saying families from all over BC are uprooted every year as they seek treatment in the city for a sick child.

“And they have to stay for treatment, sometimes from two months to nine months, sometimes up to two years while treatment is going on,” says Richard Pass. “They are trying to make their payments at home, and they can’t continue their work. To get support, and to get some form of income while they go through this, as the bills are increasing, it’s going to be absolutely fantastic.”