Expanded parental leave, new caregiver benefit, to come into effect December 3

New mothers and fathers planning to begin their parental leave on or after December 3 will be able to spread their federal benefits over a longer period of time.

IMPORTANT changes announced in Budget 2017 will soon come into effect as part of the Government of Canada's commitment to support parents and family caregivers with Employment Insurance benefits that are more flexible, inclusive and easier to access.

- Eligibility requirements remain the same: A new parent needs 600 hours of work in the previous 52 weeks to be eligible for benefits, while self-employed workers who have opted in to the EI system must have earned at least $6,888 in the a year ago.

- On Dec. 3, a new family caregiver benefit will provide up to 15 weeks of benefits for Canadians to care for adult family members who are over age 18 and are "critically ill", defined by the government as being "at risk as a result of illness or injury and has experienced a significant change in their baseline state of health".

These changes however, will apply to only about eight per cent of the Canadian population.

It is expected these changes at the federal level will create demand for similar changes at the provincial level, which may allow the majority of Canadian workers, (up to 92 per cent) access to similar benefits.

Sources say the new rules will take effect next month, but the exact date will be disclosed later today by Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Affected workplaces will have to decide how - or even if - to amend existing leave policies and collective agreements that spell out issues like salary top-ups.

"It's only certain companies that will do that, but certainly they'll have to fit it over the framework", said employment lawyer Natalie MacDonald of MacDonald & Associates. As designed, anyone who opts for the longer time frame will receive up to $326 a week as opposed to $543 week over 12 months. The period for the benefits available to family members caring for children will remain at 35 weeks.

The province of Ontario is in the process of making similar changes to parental leave under its employment rules. "There's much more flexibility now than ever before, so what families will have to decide is whether they value time or money more".

These improvements were informed by last year's consultations on EI maternity, parental and caregiving benefits and reaffirm the Government's commitment to improving the EI program so that it is better aligned with the realities of today's labour market and addresses the needs of Canadian families.

Marie-Eve Whitefield and her husband are doing the math now ahead of February, when the couple's second daughter is due to be born.

"Financially it's a big decision and depending on how long my husband wants to take as well, it's a shared leave".

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