Letter to Premier Higgs and members of the all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19.
The New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice wishes to express its support for the leadership you all have shown in the current crisis. We understand you are under tremendous pressure to put in place concrete measures to keep citizens safe. We commend you for your dedication and would like to help you address the impacts of the pandemic on low-income citizens by making certain suggestions.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every citizen in our province but its impact is felt most severely by low-income workers and citizens living in poverty in our province.
Yesterday the federal government unveiled concrete financial measures to help workers weather this crisis. The province needs to do the same for citizens on social assistance.
These citizens receive only one cheque per month (one-third of whom receive only $537 per month), and all are living under the poverty line. In the best of times, they cannot even meet their basic needs. In the present crisis they urgently need an extra financial help from their government
Premier Higgs, in order to help them financially, we are urging you to direct the Department of Social Development to send all caseload recipients (21,857 in March 2020) an extra cheque that would be fifty percent (50%) of their basic rate so that they can buy basic food, extra cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products.
Soup kitchens in the province are facing an extra burden to stay open, have the proper staff and keep the place extra clean during this crisis. With the closure of workplaces, we can expect more low-income workers to frequent these establishments where they exist. The province needs to help soup kitchens financially.
Food banks are in a similar situation. However the Food Depot Alimentaire in Moncton, the organization supplying food banks and food for school meal programs, is short-staffed because some of their volunteers are seniors and cannot help anymore. The present crisis will put an extra burden on these organizations. The province needs to help food banks financially as it did in the Ice Storm crisis in 2017.
Quite a number of social assistance recipients are staying in rooming houses and shelters. They face crowded locations conductive to spreading the corona virus. With the closure of public libraries and other public spaces, they have no places to go in daytime. The province needs to open safe alternate locations for citizens living in rooming houses or shelters.
All social assistance recipients are in a precarious financial situation and this present crisis is putting an extra financial and mental stress on them and their families. We urge your committee to continue reaching out to businesses, loan companies, banks, etc. to ask them to put a moratorium on evictions, mortgage foreclosures, utility shutoffs, penalties, etc. during this crisis.
Premier Higgs, as you mentioned, we are facing a health pandemic and we need to pull together to stop the spread of COVID-19. This includes citizens living in poverty. We urge you to take the necessary steps proposed so that citizens on social assistance are not left out.
Again, we want to express our support to the four leaders of the committee.
Pauline Gallant and Johanne Petitpas are co-chairs of the NB Common Front for Social Justice in Moncton.