On Friday, March 4, 2022, the New Brunswick government announced changes to its long outdated Household Income Policy that would allow roommates, but not spouses, to be assessed separately for social assistance.
Anti-poverty, disability rights, housing and reproductive justice advocates say that the government needs to axe the policy entirely and ensure that all social assistance recipients have greater autonomy over their housing, spending, family composition and relationships.
While roommates will no longer be considered an ‘economic unit” when assessing eligibility for income assistance, the government will continue to define an economic unit as “the applicant/client, their spouse or partner, and any children under 21 years of age who are living together.” By not separately assessing a spouse or partner for social assistance, the government of New Brunswick continues to dictate the nature of relationships of people living on low incomes in this province.
As the Household Income Policy (6.1.) states “the determination of an economic household will often result in assistance being refused, cancelled or decreased, depending on the particular circumstances.” This means that families with one or more members accessing social assistance may have to live apart or risk losing financial and social service supports. At the same time, the economic unit model does not allow individual recipients within a family to control their own finances and can, therefore, further hinder the ability of recipients experiencing intimate partner violence to exit a dangerous situation.
Kaitlyn Layden, a Saint John-based disability rights advocate, and many others have told the government several times how this policy affects them. For Layden and others, the policy has delayed marriage to their partners. People with disabilities often must pay more for medical care and having their spouse count as part of their economic unit means that many do not qualify for social assistance. The government’s change in policy does not benefit Layden nor does it benefit many New Brunswickers currently weathering a global pandemic, and skyrocketing food, gas and housing prices.
New Brunswick must abolish its antiquated “no spouse in the house” rule. By continuing to treat couples as economic units when assessing eligibility for social assistance, the government of New Brunswick is failing to understand how poverty, gender discrimination and ableism collide and oppress people in their social assistance policies. Denial of financial and family autonomy has specific implications for recipients with disabilities who have had to continue to fight for reproductive justice, including the ability to marry and parent with dignity.
The changes to New Brunswick’s social assistance policies are planned to come into effect on June 1, 2022. The government is accepting comments on the proposed changes to General Regulation under the Family Income Security Act up until April 1, 2022.
Before April 1, the New Brunswick Coalition for Persons with Disabilities, the Common Front for Social Justice, the Fredericton Anti-Poverty Organization (FAPO), Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, ACORN NB, Solidarité Fredericton and Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick ask the public to tell the government of New Brunswick (firstname.lastname@example.org) to:
- Expand the eligibility of social assistance by not treating a spouse or partner as an economic unit. Axe the Household Income Policy.
- Do not apply an economic unit policy to people with disabilities when they are applying for social assistance.
- Explore, with the guidance of disability advocates, how to optimally support people with disabilities when they are applying for financial assistance.
- Ensure every social assistance recipient can live with dignity by raising the social assistance rate above the federal poverty line.
- Improve transparency about eligibility rules and reporting requirements for social assistance recipients.
- Ensure that any public consultation regarding policy changes affecting people with disabilities be accessible to people with disabilities.
For more information, contact Abram Lutes at the Common Front for Social Justice, email@example.com.