Moncton – The new direction given by Honorable Madeleine Dubé to the social assistance program in this province is a step in the right direction. Six major changes have been announced some of which are positive, but less so for others. It is indeed unfortunate that some changes will occur only in six months, and in a year from now for others. The need for a decent income and adequate policies is critical enough to warrant the implementation of immediate changes.
The Common Front for Social Justice has been calling for an increase in the basic rates of all welfare recipients. Rates will increase by four per cent in October 2013 and three per cent in April 2014. The rates had barely moved since October 2008, so this is a step forward.
Social assistance recipients in the transitional category currently receiving $ 537 per month will get $21 more per month starting in October 2013. In April 2014, benefits will go up to $ 576 per month. However, even with these rate increases, these social assistance recipients will still be under the low-income cut-off.
The Common Front is recommending that social assistance recipients be allowed to keep up to a combined total of $ 1,000 per month (social assistance and employment income (EI)) when returning to work. With the proposed changes, recipients will only be able to keep 30 per cent of their EI on top of their basic exemption, before having their assistance reduced. While a recipient in the transitional category now has a $ 150 per month exemption (the equivalent of 15 hours of work at $ 10), the recipient will only be able to keep $ 3 of any additional income at minimum wage if he works beyond 15 hours per month. This is not enough to provide a significant incentive. If Minister Dubé is looking forward to help people find work, either part-time or full-time, then the exemptions must be more generous.
We are pleased to see that most recipients who have a certified disability will be able to keep their full assistance while living with their parents. These parents need assistance while their adult children are at home with them. This, again, is a step in the right direction. The Common Front had requested this change back in 2011.
On numerous occasions, the Common Front has taken a firm position against the household income policy, commonly known as the economic unit policy, which prevents two recipients from sharing accommodations in order to reduce their living expenses. The Department plans to add a fourteenth exemption to allow single clients who are facing work barriers in terms of “education, health, housing and social skills” to stay with their parents and have their own file. Very little information is available, however, concerning this new category of exemption, which leaves the door open to many interpretations.
In terms of the rent supplement to parents with children, we welcome the 20 per cent increase. As everyone knows, housing costs account for a major portion of the recipients’ budget, already too lean.
Finally, we note from Minister Dubé’s media release that more than half of the $ 51.2 million increase in her budget, (28.1 million) will be set aside to subsidize the poverty reduction efforts undertaken by the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation. The Common Front would like more information in this regard in order to figure out the overhead costs of the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation. We believe that any budget increase should be aimed at improving the lot of the 40,000 men, women and children in New Brunswick, who are directly dependent on social assistance.
John Gagnon is co-chair of the Common Front for Social Justice.