Editorial: Assistance rates get a boost

October 18, 2017

TIMES COLONIST, October 13, 2017 

The provincial government is easing the burden on people who receive disability assistance, with an extra $52 a month for transportation costs. With the former B.C. Liberal government’s miserly treatment of the poor still fresh in many minds, the NDP seems determined to show a kinder face to those in need.

Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, said last week the first supplement will appear on Dec. 20 cheques, to cover the period beginning Jan. 1.

In a move that cemented its reputation for pinching pennies through the misery of people who couldn’t fight back, the former government raised payments to people with disabilities by $77 month, but at the same time started charging them $52 a month for a bus pass that used to cost $45 a year.

For many people, that slashed the increase to a paltry $25 a month.

The NDP in opposition and advocates for the disabled demanded the Liberals undo what they called a “clawback.” Now in power, the NDP is putting its money where its mouth was.

Under the NDP’s plan, the additional $52 can be used to get an annual bus pass or can be used for other transportation costs.

The new subsidy will go to everyone who qualifies for disability assistance, and won’t affect other supports, such as housing subsidies. It will cover 110,000 to 115,000 people and will cost about $70 million.

The decision is a welcome addition to a move already made by the new government to increase all income assistance. As of Oct. 1, assistance rose by $100 a month, which takes the rate for individuals to $1,133 a month.

In addition, the government increased the earnings exemption. Those on disability assistance will be able to earn up to $12,000 a year before their support cheques will be docked. The previous level was $9,600.

The numbers are still so low that life is a struggle for those trying to survive on assistance in expensive cities such as Victoria and Vancouver. However, the increase in the earnings exemption at least gives people a chance to bring in extra cash without being penalized, and perhaps improve life for themselves.

Taken together, the government’s moves offer hope to people who are living on the edge.

Victoria resident Steve Bertrand said: “I had basically something like $42 a month before gas and food, after all my expenses were taken care of. So the fact that they’ve essentially added $152 to that, in the next couple of months, it’s going to change a lot of things for a lot of people.”

For fellow Victorians who could easily drop $42 on a breakfast for two on a Saturday morning, getting by on that much disposable income for a month is almost unimaginable.

Sadly, it is more than imaginable for those on assistance — it’s daily life.

The government has given a helping hand to many who need it. The challenge will be to make sure that those people are not forgotten once the new cheques are cut.

© Copyright Times Colonist



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