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social benefits

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley says details of a program to provide financial assistance to the parents of gravely ill children will be announced “in the coming months.”

The families of seriously ill children have not been forgotten, even though a plan announced two weeks ago will give support only to parents of kids who have been murdered or gone missing, the federal Human Resources Minister says.

"We're working on making the best possible program for the parents of gravely ill children, and we'll be following through on that commitment and making announcements shortly," Diane Finley told reporters on Monday.

But it is unclear when that financial help will come. Ms. Finley would say only that the details will be released "in the coming months."

And it is equally unclear where the government will get the money to help potentially thousands of Canadian families, because the recent federal budget included no provision for it.

The platform that propelled the Conservatives to a majority government a year ago included a promise to "provide enhanced benefits to parents of murdered or missing children and parents of gravely ill children."

Advocates for families of youngsters who have been diagnosed with cancer have been fighting for years for such support. Some parents, they say, are being forced into extreme financial hardship because they must take extended time off work to be at the bedside of their child.

So they were more than disappointed that these families were not mentioned when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced two weeks ago that parents of young murder victims and missing children would be eligible for as much as $350 a week for up to 35 weeks as they cope with the death or disappearance.

"What we're doing is looking at these as two very separate programs of necessity," Ms. Finley said when asked to explain why only half of the campaign promise was fulfilled.

The benefit to the families of murdered and missing children will not be paid through the federal Employment Insurance plan, the minister said, implying that any financial aid to the families of ill children might come through EI, which is what the advocates for the families have been urging.

But the EI fund is already $8.8-billion in the hole. And the cost of the assistance could be expensive. Some 1,500 Canadian children are diagnosed each year with cancer alone. Presumably, the benefit will also help parents with children who have other life-threatening illnesses such as heart problems, respiratory disease, and congenital abnormalities.

Still, families who have gone through this type of crisis ask why they would be denied benefits when their child is suffering given that they would be entitled to EI disability benefits if they themselves fell ill.

Edwina Eddy, the founder of Childhood Cancer Canada (CCC), whose son died of childhood cancer 40 years ago, said she would be "very happy" if the government makes good on its promise in the next couple of months.

"We've done everything we can do – petitions and going to MPs and writing to all the different people," Ms. Eddy said. "We've done all kinds of stuff and it just hasn't got off the ground."

Sharon Ruth of Oxford Station, south of Ottawa, who has been leading the charge for these benefits since her daughter received a diagnosis of cancer nine years ago, said she does not like to see this issue drag on.

"There seems to be a lot of shying away from just coming out and committing," Ms. Ruth said. "Every day that goes by with this delayed action, somebody else is suffering."