03/26/2013 12:12 EDT | Updated 05/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Bill would transfer EI, tax benefits to grandparents caring for grandkids

OTTAWA - Betty Cornelius gets choked up when she recalls the day nearly two decades ago when she was given a stark choice — take over care of her grandchild, Asheleigh, or see her go into foster care.

Cornelius chose to look after her granddaughter, who had special needs after being abused.

But it would mean drastic changes in the life of retirement that she and her husband had been preparing.

"We had to sell our home, we had to move to our unfinished cottage, and our retirement 55 plan has now become a work 'til you die plan," she said at an Ottawa news conference Tuesday, her voice cracking.

"That might sound fun, but it isn't fun when you're watching your 62-year-old husband come home exhausted."

Cornelius had to quit her job. And because she quit, she didn't qualify for Employment Insurance benefits.

A New Democrat MP is aiming to changed that, to give benefits to grandparents who suddenly find themselves caring full time for their grandchildren.

Claude Gravelle's private-member's bill would qualify grandparents to receive EI benefits to raise a grandchild under five.

It also proposes changes to the Income Tax Act to let grandparents claim child-care deductions that are currently only available to a low-income spouse.

Both measures, he said, are cost neutral because they would mean a transfer of benefits, not an increase.

"The EI portion of the bill is tied to the child," he said. "One person is going to get the EI, not two."

The number of grandparents raising their own grandkids has grown dramatically over the last two decades, said Gravelle.

The 2011 census indicated at least 75,000 children were being raised by their grandparents, a 20 per cent jump from 2006.

Private-member's bills rarely pass through the House of Commons to become law.

And Cornelius, who is the founder of a group called CANGRANDS Kinship National Support, knows that all too well.

The MacArthurs Mills, Ont., woman has seen five grandparent support bills introduced since 1997, both provincially and federally, only to watch them fail.

But she's not giving up, because, she says, it's just the right thing to do.

"I believe we're saving the government and doing a great service for our country," she said.

"When you look at the foster care costs, versus me taking a year off working and nurturing (my granddaughter), you have to look at the results."