In a letter published in the Telegraph-Journal, Dorothy Shephard, New Brunswick’s Minister of Social Development, said that some of us are not comparing apples and apples when we analyze the Department of Social Development’s 2019-2020 Budget.
For the NB Common Front for Social Justice and for many other organizations, when we do our budget for the upcoming year, we look at what it cost us the previous year for different budgetary items (i.e. salary, rent, phone, printing, etc.) and budget accordingly. We do not plan our new budget on old estimates of expenses the previous year because these do not reflect real expenditures. We expect the minister to do the same.
The Progressive Conservative (PC) budget for Social Development indicates a $6.2 million increase in the total estimate of expenditures. However, five programs have reductions: Corporate Services, Child Welfare and Disability Support Services, Income Security, Housing Services, and Wellness. The government plans to increase only two programs: Seniors and Long Term Care, and Other Benefits. The PC government has cut money from the five programs mentioned above in order to subsidize Seniors and Long Term Care and added a little bit of money to the Other Benefits Program. We predict that Blaine Higgs wants to take money from the Other Benefits program to provide wage salary subsidies for the social assistance recipients he wants to put to work.
We would like to remind the Minister for Social Development that the actual expenses for Child Welfare and Disability Support Services have constantly increased in the last five years, going from $1.2 million to $3.1 million, so we do not understand why the government expects these amounts will suddenly decrease. May we remind the Minister that all social recipients who are recognized with a disability, have not received any increase in their basic rates in the last five years. If Minister Shephard is satisfied with the budgetary envelope she was given, it means that all social assistance recipients with a recognized disability cannot expect any financial help this year, so they will become poorer. That is the reality of this budget. If the minister insists on saying she will have more money to implement the recommendations from the George Savoury and the Child and Youth Advocate reports, we are certainly entitled to ask her where the money is coming from.
The budgetary envelope for Income Security, which provides the income for all social assistance recipients, has also been reduced. We know that the number of social assistance recipients has decreased somewhat, which is positive, but we also know that the income for those remaining has not gone up. One-third of the recipients had not received any increase in their basic rate in the last nine years, while the others had no increase in the last five years. By reducing the amount allocated to this program, the minister is clearly saying to all of them: “Tough luck, we are not going to increase your revenue again this year, so you will have to do with less.” If the minister truly wanted to help them, she would have allocated more money to increase their meager revenue.
As for the housing program, the total expenditures have been going up each year. Since 2012-2013, expenditures have increased by 28%, so we again do not understand why the government should budget for less. We have a homelessness crisis on our hands, plus a list of thousands of citizens waiting for social housing, and we are budgeting less money! How does this government expect to address this situation?
Finally, there is a reduction of expenditures in the Wellness program. Again, when we looked at the expenditures for the past five years, the current projected expenditures are the lowest. We can only expect a reduction in this program.
The reality is that all social assistance recipients are presently living below the poverty line. All of them have been living with the same basic rate for either the last five or the last nine years, meaning that they have the same amount of income, while the cost of everything around them has increased.
The Minister is not taking seriously their desperate situation, and this budget is not going to help them. It is not a question of comparing apples and apples, but of having the political will to bring about real changes in the lives of these men, women, and children living in poverty.
Jean-Claude Basque is Provincial Coordinator of the NB Common Front for Social Justice.