How does Hawaii’s caregiver program compare to Canada’s EI benefit?

As Hawaii introduces new legislation to provide working caregivers with a daily stipend of US$70 to offset the costs of elder care, how does it measure up against Canada’s new employment insurance caregiver benefit?

The Kapuna Caregivers Assistance Act, which took effect in December, will provide the stipend to Hawaiian employees working more than 30 hours a week while also caring for an elderly relative. The legislation specifies that there’s a total pot of $600,000 available and that the payments will go to service providers rather than to the caregivers directly.

Read: How to support working caregivers

“Qualified caregivers may receive up to $70 per day in benefits (subject to the availability of funds and paid directly to contracted service providers, not the caregiver) to cover costs for adult daycare, chore services, home-delivered meals, homemaker services, personal care, respite care or transportation,” notes an information sheet on the caregiver program.

Audrey Miller, managing director of Toronto-based Elder Caring Inc., wonders how far the $600,000 will go and notes that paying out the benefit to the service provider rather than the caregiver is an interesting approach. “It will be very interesting to see how it’s all going to play out.”

New employment insurance legislation introduced in Canada at the end of 2017 includes a new caregiver benefit, but it’s only for those caring for a critically ill or injured adult family member. As of Dec. 3, 2017, eligible caregivers can access up to 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits. The Canada Labour Code also now provides corresponding job-protected, unpaid leave for up to 17 weeks.

Read: Elder care costs Canadians $27B annually in lost income, vacation

The government of Canada’s website introduces a number of scenarios to show the potential uses of the new benefit. Depending on their salary, the employees in the examples could be receiving employment insurance benefits that are roughly in line with Hawaii’s $70 daily stipend.

In one example, a young man who’s eligible for employment insurance and earns $30,000 a year takes 16 weeks off work to care for his father who has suffered a stroke. After a one-week waiting period, he can receive the family caregiver benefit for up to 15 weeks. In his case, he’ll receive $317 a week for a total of $4,755, which works out to about $63 each weekday.

“I think the EI system is a great start and I think it will be very interesting how wide and broad the definitions are of how it’s used . . .,” says Miller. “It will be very interesting to see how it’s interpreted and if the decision-makers will go with the spirit of the legislation or make life difficult for family carers.”

Read: Budget boosts parental leave to 18 months, introduces caregiving benefit

While she agrees the government has a role to play, Miller also feels there’s a place for big business in supporting working caregivers. “I’ve got a compilation of data, just in terms of the savings to the health-care system, the savings to business, more directly related to them — they’re altruistic, they’re going to want what’s good for them. Well, it’s huge savings to them. And, of course, a big help to their employees, but yet they’re just not seeing it.”

Microsoft Corp. is one employer that’s supporting its working caregivers. Last summer, it launched a new family caregiver benefit in 22 countries. Since then, it has extended the benefit to the remaining countries, including Canada. The benefit allows an employee to take up to four weeks of fully paid leave to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.

Read: Microsoft to provide four weeks of leave under new caregiving benefit

Miller says there are a number of ways employers can support working caregivers, starting with offering options for flexible work arrangements, working from home and job sharing.

“And let’s start with something that doesn’t cost anything: acknowledgment of what somebody might be going through and general awareness and some sensitivity for people wanting to shift their hours or needing to make up time,” she says.

“It’s education, it’s resources, it’s information to say, ‘I didn’t know I could even apply for government services.’ It’s not costing the employer anything to ensure that their employees are well-informed, let alone having elder care as part of their [employee assistance program]. I mean, that would be an ideal kind of thing.”

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program