Posted August 5, 2009on:
When I found out I was pregnant last year, we were surprised. Not at the pregnancy itself, but at the timing. You see, I’d gone off birth control in March or so when my prescription ran out. By September I was pregnant. My job was really going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s somewhat of a major event happening in Vancouver next year – I didn’t want to commute while that was happening. This couldn’t have been better timing.
In December, Darren quit his job – for the best really since he was miserable there and was out of work for 3 months. He’s in a much better place now, making more money and is able to leave work at work. It did however, drain our savings.
I went on maternity leave about 5 weeks (give or take) before my due date. It was Easter, a long weekend and seemed like a good time to break off. On April 14, I applied for Maternity and Parental EI benefits and was told that it would be about a month before its approved, given the state of the economy and the larger than usual numbers of people applying for EI.
Me: A month? So if I don’t hear anything in about 6 weeks I should call?
EI Agent: No, no, no. It’ll only be 4 weeks. I promise.
(Dude, I work for government; I know that 4 weeks usually means 6 or longer)
On May 17th, the Poptart was born; my EI claim still hadn’t been processed. I waited another couple of weeks then phoned because I was getting these reports in the mail to fill out even though I had asked to be exempt from them. Every time I phoned or went to the Service Canada office, I was told I didn’t have to fill them out – yet they kept sending them. None of the agents had any idea why I was receiving them.
Normally, the wait wouldn’t be an issue, but my employer provides a 6 week top up to 95% and we were running kind of tight at that point.
At the six week mark, I phoned the automated system again and listened to the whole message which said that I had to fill out the reports in order to get my claim processed.
Me: [hits 0, listens to muzak]
Agent: How may I help you?
Me: So I applied for my maternity EI over a month ago and a decision still hasn’t been made. Also, I keep getting these reports to fill out in the mail, and I asked to be exempt from them. Your automated system tells me I need to fill them out in order to have a decision made. The agents tell me I don’t need to fill them out. So which is it?
Agent: Okay, first, I’ll flag your account and have the agent dealing with your file contact you within 48 hours. And I’ll check with my supervisor as to the reports.
Me: And I would like an email explaining that either I do or do not have to fill out the reports.
Me: I want something in writing that I do or do not have to fill out the reports. This is ridiculous.
Agent: [goes away, puts me on hold]
Agent: Okay, you don’t have to fill out the reports.
Me: You’re sure? Because your system says differently.
Agent: Yes, because your file hasn’t been processed, its just in the pile with all other applications.
Me: So where’s that email?
Agent: Its coming. Is there anything else I can do?…
Within 12 hours I got a call saying my file would be processed that day. I got a back payment within 72 hours.
Anyways, it got me thinking: maternity EI should be a no brainer once your Records of Employment (ROEs) are in, especially if your ROE is submitted electronically by your employer. Maternity and Parental EI is based on the number of hours you’ve worked in a certain period of time. I knew I had the requisite number of hours for the maximum benefit. How difficult is it to create an algorithm that runs a check against the number of hours and performs the calculation of your benefits and trigger a conditional approval? All that would be necessary would be for a quick check to make sure that everything is in order. Those Maternity/Parental EI forms could be dealt with by a few agents once a week. And that would reduce the stress on new parents who not only have a newborn to deal with, but also have to deal with government bureaucracy to get a pittance of EI benefits.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have a year off to spend with my daughter. This is MY year with her because in a few years, she’s going to be Daddy’s Girl. I don’t think its fair that my income is cut in less than half – yes, you get 55% of your income to a maximum of $447/week. So its not 55% if you earn more than $812/week. Which I do.
I don’t like running that tight on money. There’s enough, but we have a bit of a cashflow issue, particularly at the beginning of the month after the mortgage, strata fees and my continuation of benefits have come out. We’ve trimmed pretty much everywhere we can, and quite honestly, my complaints are not those of a lot of other people. I should feel lucky that we all we had to do was go down to one car, cut out the maid service, cook more, and go to using my own cloth diapers rather than having a service. And I do feel lucky.
But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Canada has a low population growth rate; it may even be negative now. If the government wishes to maintain its population, then it’ll have to change the way maternity and parental benefits are. In addition to streamlining the process so that approval is immediate, it would be great if it would be an actual 55% of your income. Or more. It somehow only seems fair to do that and relieve some of the pressures on new parents so that they don’t have to choose between work and family.
At the end of the day, though, being able to spend this time with my daughter really, really makes up for it.
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