Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

Newly released documents show federal officials have been aware since the fall that some new parents might be receiving a smaller amount of money than they would have if not for a change in the way COVID-19 pandemic benefits are delivered to Canadians.

That is due to a shift in late September, when the employment insurance system kicked back into gear and three new benefits rolled out to replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that was supporting Canadians who had lost income since the spring.

On Sept. 27, eligible recipients started moving on to the decades-old EI system where the minimum weekly payment was set at $500 in line with the three “recovery” benefits.

Prior to that date, benefits were calculated based on earnings, meaning any new parent that started their EI claim before the change could receive less than $500 a week.

The documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act note the policy created inequities, and point to a similar effect for parents who will start claims after Sept. 25 this year, when the temporary rules are set to expire.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes so new parents don’t face “additional barriers accessing maternity or parental benefits as a result of COVID-19.”

Changes to the EI program can take anywhere between three and 18 months to come into force, and they generally take effect on a particular date.

Claims made before that date are often ineligible unless the change is simple and very specific to avoid what the document describes as the need to review claims that began “as much as 100 weeks in the past.”

But the undated memo outlines multiple, rapid changes and revisions to parental benefit rules in the wake of the CERB. When partial or retroactive changes were made, more problems seem to have cropped up.

There were issues with how the system handled soon-to-be-mothers applying for emergency aid, which denied them CERB payments until changes to the system could be made and back payments processed.

As well, other new parents, or those waiting the birth of their child, were put directly on EI benefits if they had enough hours to qualify, while those that didn’t were put on the CERB until the government came up with a fix.

That fix meant a one-time reduction in the number of hours needed to qualify for benefits to address concerns that some parents would lose out on benefits because they lost work hours through no fault of their own.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 35 per cent of new mothers outside of Quebec, which has its own system, didn’t qualify for federal benefits.

The pandemic has shone a light on the long-standing issue around the hours requirement, said Brock University’s Andrea Doucet, an expert on parental-leave programs.

“This was made even worse as women lost jobs and reduced (their) hours,” Doucet said.

“The reduction in insurable hours was presented as temporary, but will it lead to more inclusive policies that enable more parents to make claims?”

Kate Bezanson, an expert on family and labour market policy, said the document points a need for a rethink of the parental leave program, noting that leave policies work hand-in-hand with child care and employment efforts.

The Liberals have said they want to create a national child-care system, part of a plan to help more mothers enter the labour market.

“We want people to have babies, and take care of those babies happily, and also have jobs to return to and be able to do that seamlessly,” said Bezanson, associate dean of social sciences at Brock University.

“This is one of those moments where if we’re looking holistically and we’re looking globally at our policy portfolios, let’s put them together and get them to talk to each other and make the changes that have been long overdue.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Coldstream resident who found an owl struggling on her property in March 2021 is now spreading awareness of about the knock-on effects of rodent poisoning. (Kathy Renaud photo)
Coldstream owl ‘fighting for her life’ after ingesting rat poison

Coldstream resident warns against the use of rodenticide due to risk of secondary poisoning in raptors

Vernon residents can breathe a little easier now that a dust advisory has ended in the area. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Dust advisory lifted in Vernon

Changing meteorological conditions have improved regional air quality

The City of Vernon is looking for input into its Climate Action Plan. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon voices wanted on climate action plan

Community engagement sought on city plan

Displays and programming have continued at the Vernon Public Art Gallery despite pandemic restrictions. (Lianne Viau file photo)
Support keeps Vernon art groups’ lights on

Despite pandemic restrictions, art gallery and others sustaining the storm

The District of Lake Country saw its number of overdose calls double in 2020 over the previous year. (Black Press file photo)
Overdose calls doubled in Lake Country in 2020: report

The district’s protective services annual report shows there were 47 overdose calls last year

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels after found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Fire ripped through a mobile home on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna on March. 6. (Phil McLachlan - West Kelowna News)
‘My whole life just went up in smoke’; Fire consumes Okanagan mobile home

RCMP confirmed that there were no injuries due to the fire

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired B.C. teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

A member of the Vernon Search and Rescue winch helicopter team pulls a skier who broke her leg at the gorge backcountry area east of Sicamous into the helicopter on Friday March 5. (Shuswap Search and Rescue/Facebook)
Search and rescue helicopter helps injured skier out of Shuswap backcountry

The Salmon Arm woman broke her leg, but was helped out of the bush thanks to radio communication.

COVID creature characters featured in new video by Kelowna resident that attempts to bring a little humour to counter the fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed)
Kelowna man’s music video confronts COVID stress with humour

Power guitar tune combats pandemic uncertainty

Most Read