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What you need to know about Germany’s new parental benefits reforms

Juggling family life and work can be tough. A new series of reforms on parental allowances and time off work after the birth a child aim to make it easier.

What you need to know about Germany's new parental benefits reforms
A father walks with his child in the fall in Ludwigsburg. Photo: DPA

The Bundestag passed a series of reforms on Friday, with the aim of helping families reconcile personal and work life even better, said Family Minister Franziska Giffey of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Mothers and fathers of premature babies are to receive Elterngeld (parental allowance given out during the Elternzeit, or parental leave) for longer in future.

In addition, options for part-time work while receiving Elterngeld and for sharing Elternzeit between mothers and fathers will be expanded.

The reforms have to pass through the Bundesrat, and will likely come into force in September.

Extra benefits for early birth

For children born six weeks before the due date of birth, an additional month of Elterngeld is to be paid under the new regulations.

If the child is born eight weeks early, two additional months will be granted, three extra months will be given for children born 12 weeks early and four additional months if there was an early birth of 16 weeks. 

“We want to give parents special support during this difficult and emotionally demanding time, so that they can give their children the attention they need,” said CDU/CSU deputy parliamentary party leader Nadine Schön.

Who receives Elterngeld?

Elterngeld is one of the most important state family benefits, with more than €7 billion spent on it each year. Mothers and fathers receive the benefit if they do not work or work part time after the the birth of their child. 

The state supports this with a minimum of €300 and a maximum of €1800 per month – depending on the net earnings before the birth of the child. 

It is paid for a maximum of 14 months if both parents participate in the Elternzeit. The payment period can also be extended further but with smaller monthly payments.

READ ALSO: Here’s how Germany plans to reform Elterngeld for new parents

More flexible rules

The rules for parents who want to work part-time while receiving Elterngeld will also be made more flexible under the new rules: the amount of weekly permitted working hours will increase from 30 to 32 hours – making a four-day work week mathematically possible. 

In addition, the requirements for the so-called partnership bonus, if both parents work part-time at the same time, will be relaxed.

To finance the changes, top-earning couples with a combined income of more than €300,000 will no longer receive Elterngeld. The limit was previously €500,000.

According to the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, the plans are also intended to ease the bureaucratic burden on parents, parental allowance offices and employers. 

For example, parents who work part-time while receiving Elterngeld would only have to provide proof of their working hours in exceptional cases.

What do opposition parties say?

The opposition criticised parts of the proposal: The reform is overdue, said the Free Democrats (FDP), who at the same time called for the time in which parents receive Elterngeld be extended in some instances.

For  example, this could apply if parents may take their children to Kitas (daycare) for the first time later than originally planned due to coronavirus related restrictions, and need to spend more time at home with them.

The Left Party called for the minimum amount of parental allowance to be increased from €300 to €400 and from €150 to €200 euros for the so-called Elterngeld Plus, which allows parents to work part time during their Elternzeit.

The far-right (Alternative for Germany) AfD criticized the plans as “meagre tinkering” with a system in need of more fundamental reform.

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FAMILY

Reader question: Who can look after my children while they quarantine in Germany?

Under the latest German travel rules, vaccinated people are exempt from quarantine when returning from holidays abroad - but their unvaccinated children may not be. Here's who's allowed to take care of them.

Reader question: Who can look after my children while they quarantine in Germany?
Looking after children in quarantine can be tricky for working parents. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Germany’s new travel rules, which came into force on August 1st, were in many ways intended to make it easier for families to go on foreign holidays. 

While previously all children over the age of six had to submit a negative test or proof of recovery from Covid when flying into a Germany, now only children aged 12 and over have to show a negative test (or proof of vaccination and recovery) on their return.

READ ALSO: Germany to require Covid tests for all unvaccinated travellers arriving by ‘plane, car or train’

That essentially means that only children who are legally able to get vaccinated fall under the scope of the new rules when returning from abroad – so families whose kids are too young to get a jab won’t have to pay for tests for them.

Of course, in a global pandemic things are never quite that simple: under the latest rules, some families may still run into problems when returning from a high-risk or virus variant areas. If all the adults are vaccinated, they won’t have to quarantine, but unvaccinated children will face anywhere from five days (for a high-risks area) to two weeks (for a virus variant area) confined at home. 

Here’s what you can do if your children are in quarantine but you’re not – and you need a third-party to help look after them. 

Can grandparents or a babysitter come round to help out? 

In general, visitors aren’t allowed to enter the house during quarantine, the Federal Health Ministry told regional radio station BR24. If several people are allowed to pay visits and then leave again, it would be much harder to control the spread of the virus – which is, of course, the whole aim of self-isolation.

However, there are exceptions to this if there is a “good cause” for the visitors to be there, the ministry explained. This could mean, for example, that a carer could come into to check on an elderly resident in quarantine, or that a babysitter could come to look after the children in urgent situations.

Be aware, though, that even a “good cause” doesn’t give you a free pass to invite a rotating cast of babysitters and neighbours round to your home. Social contact should still be limited as much as possible, so it’s best to stick to a regular babysitter or relatives such as grandparents, who can come round regularly over the course of one or two weeks while your children are in quarantine. 

Can the children quarantine at someone else’s house? 

According to the Ministry for Health, that can be worked out on a case-by-case basis – and specific rules may vary depending on where you live.

READ ALSO:

The best thing to do is to contact your local health authority and ask them for advice on your situation. They’ll be able to advise you directly on whether, for example, the children’s grandparents or another relative can pick them up from the airport and take them to stay with them for the duration of the quarantine.

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