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OP-ED: MP pens letter re: tuition for EI recipients

Contributor
By Contributor
December 15th, 2009

The following is a letter to the Honorable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, sent by local NDP MP Alex Atamanenko:

Dear Minister Finley,

I write to you on an urgent matter affecting not only my constituents, but those across the province of B.C. The BC government has made an abrupt decision to cap all tuition funding for EI recipients in job retraining programs and rein in spending on all retraining programs immediately. It is my understanding that the B.C. Ministry of Housing and Social Development has decided to limit funding to those requesting assistance for job training to a maximum of $4,000 towards tuition for re-training.
 
This decision was made suddenly, without warning, and MLA offices across the province have been hearing from service providers and their clients affected by the cuts.  My office has also received calls.

Will any of this $4,000 be available in the West Kootenays, Boundary and Similkameen? We are told, likely not.

I am asking for your help to address this situation in B.C., given the extent of the economic downturn in the B.C. interior. Certainly people’s return to school or re-training is an historic trend during hard economic times. It appears that the take-up is greater than anticipated. Given that, perhaps it is prudent to review funding levels to the Province of B.C. for re-training programs.

I understand that previously, before the LMA and LMDAs were signed with the provinces, the federal government had some flexibility in moving monies around from province to province, based on where the unemployment was higher or the take-up for re-training was greater. Such a review and action now would be greatly appreciated.

As you are probably aware, the Skills Development Employment Benefits (SDEB) program supports unemployed British Columbians on Employment Insurance to retrain so they can transition within the labour market. This is such a crucial role in the current depressed and changing labour market. People seeking re-training are trying to make ends meet and show responsible initiative to retrain and support themselves during this hard economic time.

Imagine their desperation when service providers were told late last week that the program is out of money, with no word of further funding. It appears that this will not only create major road blocks for unemployed British Columbians, but will also force those already in programs and without the financial means to quit mid-semester. As well, many training institutions and schools will be forced to lay off training staff, adding to the ranks of the unemployed. In my riding, one trainer of aspiring truck operators – who come from throughout the province to train – will lose 75 per cent of his students, and his income to employ trainers.

What happens to trainees who cannot meet the full costs? For example, trainees on heavy equipment machines require up to $14,500, and incur other travel and accommodation expenses to train. How far will $4,000 get them, when they are already living on significantly-reduced other income?
 
The B.C. forestry sector has been hit very hard by the economic downturn. As one B.C. interior MLA stated: “These cuts will impact tens of thousands of unemployed workers in the central interior, one of the regions with the highest unemployment rates in the province.”

On behalf of my unemployed constituents and others in B.C. who are seeking re-training, and their service providers, I would greatly appreciate your government’s assistance in addressing this critical problem. Re-training our workforce is a sound economic investment in these difficult times and should be a priority for all levels of government.

Please be assured that you have my fullest cooperation in this regard.

Sincerely,

Alex Atamanenko, MP
BC Southern Interior

Categories: Op/Ed

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