Emily Jaycox editorial

Working Parents Benefit may be welcome but is it wise?

More is needed to ensure women can re-enter the workforce

Although the Working Parents Benefit is sure to be welcome by parents dealing with the high cost of child care if they’ve been fortunate enough to be working during the pandemic, there is a growing concern about government COVID-19 spending as the pandemic stretches on.

The Government of Alberta announced Feb. 24 that parents who used child care between April and December 2020 who have an annual household income of $100,000 or less will be able to apply for a one-time payment of $561 per child starting March 1.

They must also have paid for child care, either licensed or unlicensed, for at least three of those months.

The total fund will see $108 million paid out to eligible families.

According to a press release, the benefit is intended to alleviate financial pressures parents have faced this past year. If that’s the case, shouldn’t an extra benefit be paid to parents who were laid off or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19 rather than solely based on whether they used childcare?

That said, those interested in applying for the Working Parents Benefit should hurry — application closes March 31, 2021.

At least the Working Parents Benefit is coming from unspent funds from Children’s Services that are being redirected, rather than borrowed money that would put the province further into debt.

Borrowing in order to continue COVID-19 supports seems to be the name of the game for the federal government.

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins painted a bleak picture of the national debt load during a recent Ponoka chamber meeting.

According to Calkins, the federal debt is projected to reach as much as $380 billion by the end of March, and Canada is fast approaching the time where the nation may not be able to borrow from anyone.

He told chamber members, “At some point in time we’re going to reach a cliff where we’re no longer able to access money. If that happens and the pandemic is not yet over, I’m not sure what the contingency plan (is).”

READ MORE: MP Calkins on federal pandemic spending: ‘We’re in trouble’

Sobering thoughts indeed.

While the province’s Working Parents Benefit doesn’t seem to be adding to the provincial debt, the question remains if that is the best use of funds.

The NDP stated in a news release that as a short-term solution, the benefit misses the mark of what is really needed.

“Today’s announcement of a one-time payment to some parents may help this month, but it will do nothing for the next. Parents need affordable child care every month, not just when the UCP has a budget to sell,” said NDP Children’s Services Rakhi Pancholi in the release.

“Since the pandemic began, I have been asking Minister Schulz to account for the unspent money in her child care Budget, and to invest it in quality, affordable, accessible childcare for Alberta families.

“Instead, they have been sitting on unspent dollars for almost a year. This is an embarrassingly ineffective way to address the crisis in child care.”

What is really needed is low-cost day care.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected women. As schools and day cares closed and parents had to decide which parents to stay home from work to care for children, the lower-earner, in many cases the woman, would have stayed home.

Even families with dual incomes may struggle to pay for the cost of child care if their income exceeds the qualifying limit for child care subsidy. Even just two children in full-time care could cost upwards of $1,700, which could be most of the take-home pay of the lesser earner in a household.

When you are paying to work, women will choose to stay home, which stagnates any progress in closing the gender wage gap or representation in the workforce which we’re all poorer for.

If the intent of the benefit is really to help parents get back to work after months of being home, then what is really needed is a long-term solution of a low-cost day care plan.

The Working Parents Benefit is in addition to the recently announced $1,200 to critical workers and the $10,000 Enhanced COVID Business Benefit.

And the funding announcements keep coming. UCP funding for mental health funding support in the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency were released in February, even though the funds had been received back in the fall. Maybe the UCP is needing some good press right about now?

It isn’t a campaign year, so perhaps the funding announcements are more a PR effort to lift morale as Albertans are reaching critical pandemic fatigue levels and are increasingly voicing their eroding tolerance for public health restrictions.