Letter to the members of New Brunswick’s COVID-19 Cabinet Committee: Blaine Higgs, Kevin Vickers, David Coon and Kris Austin
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every citizen in our province. However, its impact is felt most severely by about half of those on social assistance: single persons considered employable, single persons with designated needs, and single persons with a recognized disability, of which almost half are women.
These citizens receive only one cheque per month. A single person considered employable receives $537 per month, an amount that has not increased since 2010. A single person with designated needs receives $567 per month since 2014, and a single person with a recognized disability $763 per month since 2014. All lost an important part of their purchasing power and all live considerably below the poverty line. In the best of times, they cannot meet their basic needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has a significant negative impact on the lives of citizens in these three social assistance categories. A high number live in crowded apartments, rooming houses, shelters or are couch-surfing or homeless. It is exceedingly difficult for them to abide by our request for everyone to stay at home and respect social distancing.
Many of these citizens depend on the daily meals at soup kitchens and the monthly food box from food banks to survive. Soup kitchens have closed their dining rooms, providing only take-out meals. Food banks are struggling to meet the extra demands on their services. The situation is worse in rural areas with no soup kitchens and small food banks.
During this crisis it has been suggested to stock up on food, to reduce going out often and contacting or spreading the virus. This is only possible for citizens who have money to buy in advance, have freezers and big refrigerators. Most of the citizens we are referring to have no money to buy in advance and no places to store food, especially those living in a rooming house with six or seven other persons, one kitchen and one refrigerator. They must go out more often to buy in small quantities.
The COVID-19 crisis has given these citizens an extra personal burden. Many have physical and mental challenges and their stress level is presently extremely high. Their precarious financial situation, and the closure of public spaces like libraries where they had access to computers and could socialize is making it difficult for them to cope well.
The different financial programs put in place by the province ($900) or the federal government (aside from the GST rebate) do not apply to our three categories of social assistance recipients. Our province needs to recognize that single persons on social assistance have been left out. Their present situation has deteriorated, and urgent action is needed.
The governments of Nova Scotia and British Columbia have recognized their particular situation and have provided extra financial help by increasing the social assistance basic rates.
We propose that the Department of Social Development add an extra amount on the monthly cheque equal to fifty percent (50%) of the basic rate to these three categories of single social assistance recipients, an amount that should be retroactive to April 1, 2020 and last until the end of the pandemic.
We are presently in a health pandemic and we need to help each other. We truly believe this means reaching out to citizens living in extreme poverty.
Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick, Carmen Gibbs, Executive Director
Association francophone des aînés du NB, Solange Haché, President
Association des bibliothécaires, professeures et professeurs de l’Université de Moncton, Mathieu Lang, President
Centre de Bénévolat de la Péninsule Acadienne Inc., Léo-Paul Pinet, Executive Director
Conférence Mère Teresa de la Société Saint-Vincent de Paul, Alphonse Dionne, President
Comité de justice social de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur, Sister Stella Arsenault, Coordinator
Comité des 12, Claude Snow, spokeperson
Conseil provincial des sociétés culturelles, Marie-Thérèse Landry, Executive Director
New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice, Johanne Petitpas & Pauline Gallant, Co-chairs
New Brunswick Federation of Labour, Daniel Légere, President
New Brunswick Senior Citizens Federation, Alphonse Dionne, President
New Brunswick Union, Susie Proulx-Daigle, President
Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick, Lyne Chantal Boudreau, President
Solidarity and Social Justice Committee of the Edmundston Diocese, Denyse Mazerolle, Coordinator
Social Justice Team for the Archdiocese of Moncton, Gladys LeBlanc, Coordinator
YWCA Moncton, Michèle Nadeau, Executive Director