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Parents planning to take parental leave and caregivers looking after family members will have access to benefits over a longer period when changes to employment insurance kick in next month.

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos said on Thursday that changes to Employment Insurance (EI) announced in the 2017 federal budget would take effect beginning Dec. 3.

Parents with new children will have the option of extending their parental benefits over 18 months, beyond the standard 12 currently offered. That option would mean a lower rate of benefits: 33% of average weekly earnings, to a maximum of $326 per week, compared to a rate of 55% of average weekly earnings, to a maximum of $543 per week over the standard 12 months.

Expecting mothers will also be able to receive EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date.

Read: Clients need EI? They’ll get it sooner

Changes for caregivers

The Parents of Critically Ill Children benefit has been broadened to include immediate and extended family members of children who are critically ill, rather than just their parents. It will provide up to 35 weeks of benefits.

There is also a new 15-week benefit for those caring for a critically ill or injured adult family member.

Both medical doctors and nurse practitioners will now be able to sign medical certificates for the exisiting and new family caregiving benefits.

Family Caregiver benefits for children and adults may be combined with the existing compassionate care benefits, which provide up to 26 weeks of benefits for those who leave work to care for a family member who has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death in the next 26 weeks.

The changes will apply to EI-eligible workers and self-employed workers who opt into EI and meet the program’s minimum income and other requirements.

The changes to EI caregiving benefits will apply to new claims across Canada, while the amendments to maternity and parental benefits offered under the EI program apply only to parents who reside outside of Quebec. The Quebec Parental Insurance Plan provides maternity, paternity, parental and adoption benefits to Quebec residents.

To be eligible for EI special benefits, including maternity, parental and caregiving benefits, individuals require 600 insurable hours of work in the 52 weeks preceding their claim. Self-employed workers may opt into the EI program and become eligible to collect special benefits. To be eligible, they must opt in at least one full year prior to claiming EI benefits and need to have earned a minimum of $6,888 in 2016 for claims in 2017.

Also read:

Should a self-employed parent-to-be pay into EI?

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