An expecting mother in St. John's is facing an uncertain year ahead, as she fears her maternity leave benefits are at risk due to the pandemic disruptiing her ability to accumulate the necessary qualifications.
"I'm hoping that I'll make [the hours requirement] in time, but I'm 32 weeks now and I ended up going off with my [first] daughter at 34," Samantha McLennon, who works at a salon, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
"I can't gather up those hours in two weeks, so that means I got to try and push it as far as I can to my due date."
In order to qualify for Canada's employment insurance maternity leave benefits, a woman has to have worked at least 600 hours in the 12 months prior to her leave — rules that don't take into account COVID-19.
As a hair stylist, public health regulations shut down McLennon's entire industry for months. Since reopening, she said customers haven't been filling up her chair, and she has seen as few as two people over the course of a shift. McLennon isn't paid hourly, and needs a constant flow of clients to get by.
"The days can definitely be a struggle in what you're actually getting," she said.
McLennon said she has heard similar concerns from other expecting mothers, and has yet to hear anything concrete back from the federal government, despite reaching out to local MPs like Seamus O'Regan and Jack Harris for help.
"It's a bit upsetting, really," she said.
"I see lots of moms on [Facebook] and I know I'm not the only one out there that is struggling. And they're reaching out too and we're not getting anything back. We're just getting told to wait and wait. But you know what? A baby doesn't wait … and bills don't wait either."
'It's not a normal year'
At the start of the pandemic, Canada's EI system was suspended and replaced by Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Other expecting or new mothers have come forward with their concerns about being left out any safety net, and the federal government has vowed to help — although exact details of that help have been scant.
"Just make it a little bit easier for us to get [benefits]," McLennon said.
"It's not a normal year ... I feel like there should be some kind of leeway with the hours or something."
McLennon said she doesn't have many child care options that would allow her to return to work early, as finding care for an infant and her 14-month-old daughter would be a challenge. For the time being, she said all she can do is wait to hear a response from Ottawa.
"You're still going to work everyday wondering what's going to happen, or if anything is going to reduce the hours," she said. "All you can do is hope that they come up with something."
The CERB program is in its final weeks, and the federal government is expected to announce more details of changes to the EI system, including relaxing some rules like the number of hours required to receive support payments.