Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for requesting this debate today. As members know, the topic of this debate, the employment insurance sickness benefit, is of utmost importance to our government.
Since taking office, we have introduced changes to the El system to make it more flexible, and to make sure that El aligns with both the needs of Canadian families and the realities of today's labour market. In particular, EI sickness benefits are an important support measure for Canadians who have to leave their job due to injury, sickness, or quarantine. They provide temporary financial assistance to eligible people who are unable to work, so they can restore their health before returning to work.
In 2015-16, the EI program received more than 365,000 sickness benefit claims, and paid out over $1.5 billion for this type of benefit. On average, recipients claimed 10 weeks of benefits of the maximum entitlement of 15 weeks. This shows that, in the majority of cases, the available coverage is sufficient. We are well aware that sometimes recipients use up their 15 weeks of benefits before they are able to return to work. We are keeping a close eye on this situation.
Sickness benefits are just one part of a range of support measures for Canadians living with long-term sickness or disability. This also includes Canada pension plan disability benefits, benefits paid by private insurance programs, and support programs implemented by provinces and territories. Our government is also constantly working to improve the EI program.
As I noted earlier, we have enacted and implemented several changes to ensure that the El system is more adaptable, fairer, and more flexible, and that it continues to support Canadians when they need it most. On December 3, for example, changes to EI special benefits came into effect. They highlighted our government's support for caregivers by making El benefits more flexible, more inclusive, and more accessible.
First, we created a new EI family caregiver benefit for adults. This provides up to 15 weeks of benefits to eligible caregivers to offer support to an adult family member who is critically ill or injured. In addition to specialist physicians, general practitioners and nurse practitioners can now sign documents attesting that the child or adult is critically ill. This change also applies to compassionate care benefits for providing end-of-life care for family members.
Once again, our government is committed to making sure that Canada's EI system is flexible enough to meet the needs of modern-day families, because we understand that this is the best way to help Canadians when they need it the most.