Cost of giving ill workers extra EI sickness benefits? $1.1 billion, PBO says

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OTTAWA — The parliamentary spending watchdog says covering benefits for people who are too sick to work for up to a year would cost the federal government $1 billion more than its current program.

As is, the support provided available through Employment Insurance covers just over half of a worker’s earning for 15 weeks if they are off work due to illness.

The parliamentary budget office estimates in a report today that it would cost about $1.1 billion to extend coverage to 50 weeks, rising to an extra $1.3 billion five years later.

EI sickness benefits are the only of the so-called special benefits under the EI program that the Liberals have not amended since coming to office.

However, there appears to be all-party support for a motion in the House of Commons to have a committee of MPs study extending the benefit, which hasn’t been updated since its introduction in 1971.

In 2017, the most recent numbers available, benefits were provided to more than 400,000 claimants at a cost of about $1.6 billion, but many of them run out of benefits well before they’re able to go back to work.