OPEN LETTER to Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Employment on continued support for new mothers, new parents and 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.

"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

Dear Ministers,

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, Sincerely,

Daniel Blaikie
MP, Elmwood-Transcona
Critic for Employment, Workforce Development

Jenny Kwan
MP, Vancouver East

Lindsay Mathyssen
MP for London—Fanshawe
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"

 

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