Residents of the Lakeland, except for those in Cold Lake and Lloydminster will be able to apply online as of March 2 for the new ‘Working Parents Benefit’ announced by the provincial government on Feb. 24.
According to Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz, the new benefit is a one-time payment of $561 per child which will be given to parents who paid for childcare for at least three months between April 1 and December 31 of 2020.
Residents of Cold Lake, Lloydminster, and other urban centres except for Edmonton and Calgary will have to wait until March 3 to apply.
“This new working parent benefit will go a long way to help protect the lives and livelihoods of these working families, and the supports will not only go a long way in helping families continue to invest in the childcare or preschool of their choice, but it will also create additional economic stimulus here in Alberta,” said Schulz.
She said the funding for the benefit comes from $108 million in subsidy money which went unspent in 2020 because of reduced enrollment in licensed childcare facilities.
“So we decided to keep these dollars in the pockets of those hardworking Alberta families who needed at this time,” said Schulz.
The childcare subsidy program was changed in August 2020 to increase the amount of money an individual can receive through the program, but reduce the maximum household income threshold to $75,000.
According to Schulz, that decision was made because the feedback they received regarding the $25 a day childcare was that it was inherently unfair.
“It didn’t necessarily always support the parents and families who needed that support. We have to balance being fiscally responsible with making sure that we have childcare choices so that parents can access those spaces to enter and reenter the workforce or to take part in post-secondary training or retraining, if they do choose,” said Schulz.
She said they need better data about the childcare choices parents are making because only one in seven are choosing licensed spaces. In an e-mail after the announcement, Schulz’s press secretary Becca Polak said they are working on initiatives to collect that data but don’t have any specific means for parents to provide that feedback at this time.
Costs ‘about as much as our monthly mortgage’
Ryan Rafferty is a St. Paul father with a two-year old son. Their family had been receiving care at a licensed daycare in St. Paul using the $25 a day program which is set to expire as of March 31. He said they’ve been told their rate will be doubling, and that there will now be fundraisers required as well.
“For my family alone, it’s going to cost about as much as our monthly mortgage to have our son go to daycare there. And I know a lot of families are struggling, I have some friends that are struggling and they’re looking for alternative arrangements just because it’s not affordable,” said Rafferty.
He and his wife’s combined incomes put them above the new $75,000 maximum, so they aren’t eligible for any subsidy at all.
“We’re going to have to make cuts in other parts of our life, just to be able to afford daycare. I fully support the daycare. But it’s just too much money,” said Rafferty.
Lakeland Connect did reach out to Garderie les petits oursons multiple times in the last week for more specific details about their rates and the reasons for increases, but calls and e-mails have not been returned.
Adding to the stress for Rafferty are demands by the province to roll back wages by four per cent. He said nothing has been confirmed yet because the AUPE is still in bargaining discussions with the province, but it’s going to be “very challenging with the cost of living increasing the way it is.”
Rafferty said he did reach out to MLA Dave Hanson about six weeks ago on the childcare issue and was told he would receive a response, but hasn’t heard anything back.
According to Hanson, his office did forward Rafferty’s letter to the Ministry of Children’s Services.
“We do try to respond to people, positive or negative. If I don’t have an answer for them, they’re far better off if we do a ministerial request form and get the ministry to respond directly to them,” said Hanson. He said he would have his staff forward the letter again asking the ministry to respond.
Hanson said he remembers the challenge of being a young family.
“When we had two kids in daycare it made more sense for Donna [Hanson’s wife] to stay at home and take in a couple of kids than for her to go to work because basically, she was working for nothing. So, I know, I hear, and I understand. Been there, done that, as they say,” said Hanson.
According to the Business Council of Alberta, “individuals leaving the workforce often experience major consequences for their lifetime earnings—according to one study, an income loss of 3-9 per cent per year of absence for 3-5 years. Moreover, child care costs are more likely to affect women.”
Regarding the Working Parents Benefit announced Feb. 24, Hanson said he certainly hoped people in the area would apply for it.
“Not everyone will qualify for it, but I’m sure many, many people will,” said Hanson.
In order to qualify for the benefit, families must have a combined income of less than $100,000 in 2020, have children aged 12 and under, provide receipts for childcare received between April and December 2020, and have needed the care because they were working or attending school. They must also apply using the MyAlberta Digital ID.