OTTAWA — Pregnant women will receive help from a key COVID-19 emergency-aid program and will be given a way to access federal maternity benefits even if they aren’t working due to the pandemic, says Canada’s employment minister.
Pregnant women who applied for employment insurance at the outset of the pandemic have found they weren’t automatically transferred over to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit when it became available earlier this month.
On top of that, many are now worried they won’t work enough hours to qualify for maternity and parental benefits, which are run through the employment insurance regime, when they reach their due dates.
“They’re going to have full access to their maternity and parental entitlements and they’ll receive the accurate dollar amounts, but it feels like this is taking long because we’re solving problems on a daily basis,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Friday in an interview.
“They will get what they are entitled to … because there is not a scenario where we don’t make this right for people.”
Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, the critic for families, said in a statement that her party looked forward to details on the fix: “Canadians are looking for clarity and leadership during this crisis, not more confusion and delays.”
Since applications for the CERB opened earlier this month, there have been 7.12 million unique applicants for the $2,000-a-month benefit, just over two million of whom previously qualified for EI in March. Federal figures posted Friday show $22.4 billion has been paid out through Thursday, out of a program budgeted at $24 billion.
The hurdle for expecting mothers stems from them marking themselves as pregnant on the online EI application. That put a flag on their file as a marker for officials that they might change benefit streams, from the CERB to EI, but also meant they weren’t moved to the CERB with other workers at the start of April.
In some cases, the women calling Service Canada have been told they have to apply early for parental benefits, which would mean a return to work months before their infant is a year old.
Mothers-to-be who are eligible for the CERB can receive the emergency help even if they expect to start an EI maternity or parental claim soon. And anyone previously on EI would have their entitlement period paused while on the CERB. The only stipulation for the CERB is that you can’t receive maternity benefits at the same time.
“There are very unique fact patterns that we’re trying to figure out solutions for,” Qualtrough said, pointing to single mothers whose spousal support has dropped due to the pandemic.
During the committee meeting, New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan said many women “cannot get access to support in a dire situation” because the support payments aren’t calculated in lost income needed to access the CERB.
The CERB is among a host of federal initiatives unveiled in recent weeks to combat the economic fallout from COVID-19, with total combined spending of more than $145 billion.
All that spending is expected to plunge the federal deficit for the year: the parliamentary budget officer suggested a deficit of $184.2 billion this fiscal year may not be out of the question, while some private-sector economists have not written off a $200-billion deficit.
Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux said in a report Friday that a $25-billion loan program for businesses will likely cost federal coffers just over $9.1 billion through a combination of interest costs, defaults and loan forgiveness.
The Liberals created the Canada Emergency Business Account to provide interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to help cover operating costs, with up to $10,000 of the loan to be forgiven if it is repaid by the end of 2022.
The monthly fiscal monitor from the Finance Department shows that through 11 months of the previous fiscal year — the period of April 2019 to February 2020 — the government posted a deficit of $7 billion compared to a surplus of $3.1 billion during the same period in the previous fiscal year. Net federal debt surpassed $780 billion, the fiscal monitor said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2020.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press