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Caregiver benefit for parents of ill children misunderstood, federal review says

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos looks on at the end of a press conference on changes to the Employment Insurance Program's caregiving, maternity and parental benefits at Montfort Hospital in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. An evaluation of a federal benefit to help parents take time off work to care for critically-ill children says the program suffered from a lack of awareness and understanding that hindered its take-up. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — An evaluation of a federal benefit to help parents take time off work to care for critically ill children says fewer people have used it than expected because they didn’t know about it or didn’t understand how it worked.

Annual applications for the benefit have been well below the 6,000 anticipated when the previous Conservative government introduced it in 2013.

The evaluation posted online details months-late applications, call-centre agents who didn’t always understand all facets of the benefit themselves, and rejected applicants who tended to have lower levels of education and earnings.

The Liberals morphed the benefit into a new program designed to be easier to apply for and receive.

Employment and Social Development Canada, which oversees the program, says there were 4,900 claims for the new benefit between its introduction in December 2017 and December 2018.

The department has also worked since November 2017 to improve understanding of the new benefit through social-media posts, online videos and rewriting a federal website.

The Canadian Press