June 18, 2020
Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Chair, Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Hon. Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance
Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
OPEN LETTER RE: CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR NEW MOTHERS, NEW PARENTS & INFANTS IN COVID-19
We write you today in order to raise our constituents’ growing concerns about how they will continue supporting their families through this pandemic and into the post-pandemic period, and in particular the circumstances faced by new mothers and parents of young infants.
We have previously raised concerns in letters to you, in Committee and in technical briefings about the financial difficulty faced by new parents who have fallen through the gaps between both EI maternity/parental leave and the CERB. We are still hearing from new parents about the many reasons that they struggle to meet their basic needs in this pandemic:
- Expectant and new parents who lost work as a result of COVID-19, and are no longer able to accrue the hours needed to qualify for EI maternity or parental benefits, have therefore been left without the source of income they were counting on during maternity or parental leave. While CERB may assist some of these families for up to 16 weeks, this is no replacement for the 12 to 18 month support provided by EI maternity benefits.
- For new parents who were laid off or had to leave a job to be at home to care for children as a result of COVID-19, and who were able to access the CERB from the first eligibility period, beginning March 15, they are now approaching their final CERB payment and are at wit’s end as to how they will be able to meet their basic costs of living without continued direct support payments, especially if they do not qualify for either maternal benefits or regular EI. Some new parents who are freelance or contract workers, or otherwise EI-ineligible workers, did not technically lose jobs as a result of COVID-19 but simply did not have contracts extended, renewed or offered anew. They are still unclear if they are therefore eligible for CERB and have not applied for this benefit because having to repay the benefit would also be very difficult.
- New parents who were attending full-time classes at the onset of the pandemic still face the same increased cost pressures as all other families, and yet they were forced to wait until the May 15 opening of applications for the CESB receive income support; and, even then, they received a lesser amount of income support ($2000 for parents of dependant children) than they would have qualified for under the CERB; and, the CESB will only provide support until the end of August.
- Parents who work outside the home face impossible choices in trying to arrange for care for their children. Licensed affordable child care was extremely difficult to secure even before the pandemic; now, with many licensed child care providers rightly prioritizing essential workers, operating at 50% capacity, and only accepting babies over 18 or 22 months, the search for child care went from difficult to impossible for many new parents.
- Those who rely on child care provided by grandparents or extended family fear the heightened health risks presented by COVID-19. A working parent who risks exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, or whose child has even a part-time placement in licensed child care, must decide if the urgent requirement for having their children cared for overrides the health risks to an elder relative if they unwittingly transmit the coronavirus.
- Single parents, many of whom are women, face an even greater burden in trying to juggle appropriate care for their children with the need to earn an income, and single parents who rely on spousal or child maintenance payments to meet basic costs remain ineligible to turn to CERB to replace payments that have been missed or lost in this pandemic. To this day nothing has been done, despite the government's acknowledgement of the issue.
Data that is now emerging about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic prove that the economic impacts are being borne even more heavily by women. Six out of every ten jobs lost in the pandemic were held by women. COVID-19 related job losses have been amplified for people who work in lower-wage jobs, and that the impact has been even greater on women than on men. New info from Statistics Canada indicates that eight in ten Canadian payroll employees who lost their jobs were paid hourly and the number of hours worked fell to 29.5 hours, the lowest on record. Young people have also been disproportionately affected – in BC, the unemployment rate for youth 15-24 is over 28%, or more than one in four. Anecdotes and some studies suggest that people who are racialized have also borne heavier impacts, but so far the federal government has not heeded the NDP’s calls to require that data on this be collected across all ministries. Those whose incomes are lowest, whose work is most precarious, who have the fewest resources and the least capacity to save up earnings are the most heavily impacted.
As public health officials lift some restrictions on activity, it is crucial that we ensure that young children and their families are not put at health, social and economic disadvantage. For parents going back to work, they need to know that their children will be safe and cared for. For parents who are still home with new babies, they need to know that the income support will be there. The temporary increase to the Canada Child Benefit was welcomed by many but in no way does it adequately replace the loss of employment income, maternity benefits or spousal or child support.
Providing an adequate maternity income, such as by extending the CERB criteria to be a truly universal direct payment, or extending maternity and parental leave to all new parents regardless of whether they qualify for EI would make all the difference for families who struggle to make ends meet; and, it would be an excellent public health measure as it would lessen the strain on crowded daycares, enhance maternal mental health, child health, and lessen the divide between single mothers and two-parent families. We include as an enclosure to this letter links to two petitions that call on the government to put in place measures to extend maternity and parental supports in this pandemic, and they have garnered many thousands of signatures.
This pandemic gave you different tools to support new parents. You could allow new parents to use CERB when their maternity and parental benefits are maxed out and they are not able to go back to work. You could extend parental and maternity benefits at the same rate to 18 months. The NDP believes that you have many tools in your toolbox and that your government could put in place a solution immediately.
At the outset of the pandemic, many in our communities called on government and institutions to engage in “care-mongering” efforts to ensure that people in were not made more vulnerable or isolated by the pandemic and benefitted from mutual aid. We cannot think of any more “care-mongering” act that your government could take on at this time than to ensure financial stability and security for families of very young children. Ensuring continued stability for families at this time will have an incalculable benefit.
Thank you for your consideration and we will look forward to reply at your earliest convenience,
NDP Critic for Employment, Workforce Development
MP, Vancouver East
NDP Critic for Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Women and Gender Equality
Cc: The Hon. Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development
Petition to Extend Maternity & Parental leave during Covid-19 Pandemic
“Canadians who are on Maternity or Parental leave during the lockdown due to Covid-19 are currently struggling in isolation. We are struggling because what we thought the last few months of our leave would be time spent bonding with our families and children is instead time spent under mandatory lockdown and isolation. We are unable to participate in any of the activities we had planned to help our babies develop healthy relationships and social interactions. Covid-19 is hindering our children’s social development and fueling post partum depression and anxiety Being a new parent is hard and even harder in isolation. I believe isolation and Covid-19 are causing post partum depression and anxiety in new mothers. It is taking a toll on our mental health. We are unable to take our children to play groups or family gatherings, churches, playgrounds or recreation centres, all of which have been restricted by our government during this time. We are struggling with thoughts of how isolation is going to impact our children's health and development and we are struggling with our own mental health during this pandemic.
Under current social distancing laws we are restricted from visiting with anyone outside of our own households, meaning many babies are not getting the opportunity to bond with their grandparents. Under normal circumstances it is hard enough to leave your new baby to return to work, but now with the isolation even family members have become distant strangers in the eyes of an infant. After being with only their parents for months on end with no other social interactions with peers, family or friends our babies are developing social anxiety and separation anxiety.
Daycares in Nova Scotia are set to open June 8 however schools will remain closed. Many of us who have mat leave ending will not qualify for CERB if daycares are open. Parents are struggling with the thought of sending their children off to a daycare with severe separation anxiety. We are also worrying whether a second wave could quickly and easily spread through a daycare. Dropping baby off after months spent alone with their parents just seems cruel as they have not had the chance to form relationships with any other people. Yes babies are resilient and they will adjust, however we could make it so much easier for them and their parents by extending parental/maternity leave.
Anyone who is currently on maternity or parental leave should be given the opportunity to extend their leave up to 6 months at 55% of their wages. Given the current circumstances, an extended leave will give parents and their new babies a chance to reintegrate into society as restrictions slowly lift. An extension will help ease the stress and anxieties that Covid-19 has brought to Canadian families.
If you feel it is unsafe to send your baby to a daycare due to Covid-19 or separation anxiety, please consider signing the petition. If you have been suffering from post partum depression or post partum anxiety due to Covid-19 and isolation please consider signing the petition. If you or someone you know could benefit from an extended maternity or parental leave, please sign this petition. We want our babies to have healthy social relationships and a smooth transition into society! We want to return to work with confidence and without post partum anxiety and depression!”
Petition to Improve access to Maternal Healthcare & extend paternity leave during Covid-19.
“We are a group of over 200 parents from across Canada, including nurses, childhood educators, teachers, stay at home parents, grandparents and moms/dads on paternity leave, to name a few. We are concerned for moms and babies, and the impacts of the pandemic upon them. Specifically the governments decision to redirect health resources specific to babies and mothers care towards Covid-19 containment efforts (such as testing etc). As well as the closure and cancellation of many essential health needs for mothers and babies, or such services being deemed as “non essential.” This has had a terribly detrimental effect on mothers and babies mental and physical health. We ask that the essential healthcare for babies and parents be returned. We are also petitioning for more time for them together to utilize these resources once returned.
Parents on paternity leave have already lost two months of enjoying a normal leave, with access to proper care and resources, due to the restrictions of Covid-19. We propose the government extend paid paternity leave for three months for parents this year to allow mom/dad and baby more time together and time to heal from the damage done to them from isolation and Covid-19 government related restrictions on gathering and movement. Many parents do not even have safe childcare available for their one year old due to government restrictions. If parents have the option to stay home with their babies then there will be more of the limited childcare available for others who want it.
- Pregnancy and childbirth have an enormous impact on a woman’s physical and mental well being. Time is needed to rest and also to exercise and heal her body. This time is not available to a lot of mothers currently due to the closure of daycare and schools. Also spaces that offer specialized classes and care have been closed by the government. Mothers have not had access to basic health services which are crucially needed during pregnancy and post partum for herself or her baby. Baby’s and mothers are not getting assessed as often or as throughly as they normally would.
- Parents are not getting the opportunity to bond with other parents in the same stage of life, as programs and meet up locations have been closed by the government. Many women are at home isolated pregnant or with a baby and not being allowed to form the normal relationships with other mothers that would other wise happen at this stage of maternity leave. Many pregnant mothers are experiencing anxiety. They are struggling to navigate the constantly changing and isolating rules round their appintments and healthcare. After childbirth many have post partum depression, with a lack of options for mental healthcare, and lack of assessment of their mental health.
- Social distancing has led to many parents being isolated at home alone, especially if their partner is still working, leaving them without normal supports, such as friends and family visiting. Despite the recent easing of restrictions, parents have lost a total of two months of visitors and supports. Some without immediate family nearby have not found the easing of restrictions useful. Baby’s have not had a chance to bond with other family members or friends. This can affect the baby’s development.
- Parent and baby are not being given adequate time to bond and establish healthy routines due to the stress of having other children home on this paternity leave or dealing with other stressors related to Covid-19. Time usually spent bonding and caring for a baby is now being used to juggle multiple tasks and chores, homeschooling and care for other children. These other children are developing mental health issues or behaviour issues of their own which causes further stress on the parent. Or other out of norm concerns related to Covid-19. Mothers are not getting enough time to focus on establishing breastfeeding or their baby meeting proper milestones or growth, and are lacking the access to care to help them.
- The Maternal journey is unique and challenging in its own individual way. Bringing a baby into the world is experience that we will not have many opportunities in our life to have. It is a special and unique time. One that should be full of love and fun. This time of the world, this pandemic, has led parents to spend a great time of their maternal journey alone, worried, fearful and stressed. This includes financial worries and concerns for their hours and jobs related to expecting a baby or on paternity leave.
Mothers want access to their essential maternal healthcare during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.
Parents want more time with their babies to address all the damage done to themselves and their babies either mentally or physically.
We propose the government extend paternity leave with pay this year for a minimum of three months. Please sign to show your support. Please send emails to ask for this. We need every voice heard.
The Canadian Maternal Health Petition Group (Covid-19) 2020.”