BC families on income assistance get to keep EI maternity benefits

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The B.C. government has decided to stop clawing back some types of Employment Insurance from families also receiving income assistance, after a Sooke family launched a human rights complaint earlier this year.

Under the new rules families on income assistance or disability assistance will now be able to keep any maternity and parental benefits they receive, starting Oct. 1.

Families collecting EI benefits because of critically ill children will also be exempt from the clawback.

The new rule is expected to apply to about 200 parents each year, the government estimates. B.C. is the second province after Quebec to bring in the exemption.

Human Rights complaint resolved

Previously, the government had deducted federal EI benefits from provincial assistance cheques, saying it expected people to exhaust all other sources of income before receiving the provincial assistance.

But a Sooke family, Jess and Tony Alford, launched a human rights complaint last May, arguing the rules effectively discriminated against low income women with children.

Their lawyer said Wednesday the family’s case was resolved before going to a hearing and the couple has received a cash settlement from the government.

“They are very satisfied with the settlement they have reached with the government,” said Laura Johnston.

The problem, when it comes to maternity and parental leave, is the old rule unfairly hurt women — because they’re the ones taking leave to have babies, she said.

“The purpose of EI maternity and parental benefits is to share the financial cost of child birth and early child care among everyone in our society, rather than heaping that cost on women alone,” said Johnston.

“These changes are an important step forward for women’s equality.”

‘Devastating’ clawback

The Alford’s complaint began when their third child was born in 2014. At the time they were getting by on Tony’s disability assistance and a few hundred dollars Jess earned each month at a bookstore.

When Jess went on maternity leave, she qualified for Employment Insurance maternity and parental leave benefits of about $500 a month.

But because EI is classified as “unearned income,” every dollar she got came off Tony’s disability cheque, leaving the family in a “devastating” financial situation, said Johnston at the time.

Now families in that situation will get to keep all of the EI money.

“Having my family’s income drastically reduced because I needed time off work to have my baby only made a stressful time worse for our family,” said Jess Alford.

“I’m so happy to know that going forward families like ours who pay into the EI system will get to keep the EI benefits they have earned.”

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