Thursday, July 19

BC Moms scramble to merit EI

Two Lower Mainland mothers say they are straining to qualify for Employment Insurance benefits for maternity leave because they became pregnant too quickly after having their first child. Vancouver resident Carol Adams and her North Vancouver friend Meagan Raback both have one-year-olds. And though they didn't plan it, they both became pregnant during their first maternity-leave period as they were preparing to head back into the work force.
Now they say they are scrambling to rack up enough hours of work to be eligible for Employment Insurance. Pregnant women must accumulate 600 EI–insurable hours of work in the past year to qualify for maternity benefits.

"I have to work right up until the end [of her pregnancy], working full-time hours, if I hope to get my best wages," Adams told the Georgia Straight. "So when I am at my most tired at the end, when I am big and have a daughter [Samantha] I can't pick up any longer, I either have to start taking my mat leave–not good for me as I want to spend as much time with my [new] baby as possible–or I work right to the end."

The Adams family is also "house poor" as a result of an extra mortgage forced on them by the leaky-building envelope they bought into. They do not want to move, because they say the market is too hot for them to afford anything comparable elsewhere.

Before discovering she was pregnant a second time, Raback and fiancé Logan McPherson had put a down payment on a new two-bedroom Port Moody condo. They will move there in a few weeks, though Raback admits "space will be tight" and the expanding family "could not afford a three-bedroom right now".

"I didn't go back to work right away because it was too hard," Raback told the Straight of the arrival of her son, Dexter. "I didn't want to put him in daycare right away because he was a really fussy baby and didn't sleep well. Daycare would not have got him to nap on time, so I was just going to wait. I was starting to look for work again and I got pregnant again, and so then I was like, 'Nobody is going to hire me now, because I'm pregnant.' I was in sales and marketing, and you have to be very flexible and work long hours. My friend is a manager at a restaurant, and she told me I could serve when I wanted to and at night, and that way I wouldn't have to put Dexter in a daycare. So I am doing three nights a week, and now I am picking up more shifts to get my 600 hours."

Sue Foster, Service Canada director of benefit entitlement, told the Straight the situation may have been different had Adams stayed in Whistler, the town where she and Raback met. Whistler is part of the federal Best 14 Weeks pilot program, which covers 23 economic regions in Canada. The program uses the full-time weeks when mothers are earning peak pay, which helps in areas offering predominantly seasonal or fluctuating employment.

"If you are included in the pilot, you can potentially have a benefit rate that reflects more your full-time weeks," Foster said. "That's the idea behind it." Foster then directed the Straight to the office of Monte Solberg, federal minister of Human Resources and Social Development on the question of including Greater Vancouver in the Best 14 Weeks pilot. By Straight press time, Solberg had not called back.

There is currently no national daycare program, though Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government introduced the universal child-care benefit program in 2006, which pays out $100 a month to each child–up to $1,200 a year–under the age of six.

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