While the federal government has granted relief measures to help with the economic hardship caused by COVID-19, several expectant mothers in Squamish are worried they may fall through the cracks.
Four pregnant women recently penned a letter to local MP Patrick Weiler saying that when it comes to help for maternity and parental leave, they've been left out in the cold.
"We're all women who worked," Pascale Gibeau, the lead author, told The Chief. "It's not like we're asking for charity or anything. We've paid taxes and we've done our part."
However, the nature of their jobs makes them unable to qualify for maternity and parental benefits under employment insurance.
That's because in some cases they're self-employed. In other cases, they're contract workers, or they've lined up jobs that have been disrupted due to the pandemic, preventing them from accumulating enough hours to qualify for EI.
While the government has offered the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, as a financial aid to help those who can't qualify for employment insurance, these women say that it's not enough.
The CERB gives $2,000 a month for four months to people who've lost income yet are unable to qualify for employment insurance.
Gibeau is almost six months pregnant. She's a PhD student who had lined up a job that would help her accrue the 600 hours needed to qualify for employment insurance by the time she's expected to give birth in July.
But COVID-19 deferred the start of her job until May, which means there's no way she can rack up the hours needed between then and her due date. Furthermore, the uncertain circumstances created by the pandemic could defer the start date of that job indefinitely.
"You had contracts planned or you had things lined up," said Gibeau "It's not like we were not going to work. We all had something lined up that doesn't happen anymore. And that leaves us kind of between the different programs."
In response, the office of MP Patrick Weiler said that the CERB is a key part of the federal government's emergency COVID-19 response plan.
"In certain circumstances where work is not available due to COVID-19, upon the conclusion of maternity benefits or EI, the CERB will be available," reads a written statement Weiler's office provided The Chief. "We have also increased the GST credit and topped up the Canada Child Benefit which will be received this and next month."
However, Gibeau said she'd likely be able to qualify for CERB relief, but that's only a four-month program. There'd be nothing to help her during her actual maternity leave, which is when parental assistance from employment insurance would ordinarily be providing help for about a year.
Gibeau and the co-authors of the letter suggested three possible changes that could help keep pregnant women and new mothers from getting left behind due to the pandemic.
The first suggestion would be to reduce the amount of work hours needed to qualify for maternal and parental employment insurance assistance. Perhaps something in the ballpark of 400 hours instead of 600, they said.
Secondly, they asked to extend the amount of time during which hours can be counted. Currently, you must accumulate 600 hours over 52 weeks.
The last suggestion was to extend CERB to fully cover the time they won't be able to work.
Weiler's statement, however, noted that the policies announced by the federal government are just a first step, and there will be more to come.
"I will relay these considerations to my colleagues and Finance Minister Morneau as we continue to support all Canadians affected by COVID-19," he said.
"I am focused [on] doing everything I can to ensure that the critical support that we continue to develop and distribute do not leave anyone behind. I would, therefore, like to thank Pascale, Angela, Melissa, and Alexis for sharing their concerns and proposals, which are important contributions for our ongoing discussions we are having on how to support all of our community to get through this. As a very recent uncle of two nephews, I very much sympathize with the challenges of pregnant women and new mothers at this time."