When Finance Minister Ernie Steeves’ pre-budget news release told the people of New Brunswick that the 2023–24 budget would contain assistance for NB’s most vulnerable populations, we held our breath, crossed our fingers, and hoped for the best.
We hoped against hope there would be some items in the budget that would offer some minuscule help for our members, the bulk of which were previously announced. In terms of new assistance for persons with disabilities, there was really nothing of use.
The government tried to portray $20 million as “new” spending to help support individuals on social assistance, except these reforms were all announced in Oct. 2022. At least they finally tied social assistance rates to inflation, if only people could survive on those benefits and more could access them.
A person with a disability on extended benefits — which is only 30 per cent of all applicants on social assistance due to a disability, currently receiving $832 per month — starting in April would receive an increase of $60.75.
It can cost between 30-40 per cent more to live with a disability, so the additional $60.75 will not purchase much. Should this individual be fortunate enough to have a rent subsidy, they will lose $18 of that increase towards the subsidy, ultimately leaving a recipient with a whooping $42 per month extra on what’s not enough already — not really a whole lot of assistance.
We are pleased to see an increase to wages for personal support workers — many subsist on minimum wage or just above that. These folks are asked to care for the most vulnerable in our society: aging parents, children, or disabled adults. Don’t these workers deserve something above poverty-level wages? This increase still will not get them there.
The money allotted for travel for caregivers and foster parents is welcomed — again this is long past due. The same should be available for persons with disabilities. We should not be told to forfeit parental rights of our children with multiple needs to social development and then see if we can become their foster parent such that we can finally get respite care, aids, and multiple resources for said child. If this was your child, how would you feel?
They have also called for increased funds to third-party service providers and home support agencies but there is no stipulation that these funds go to programming or services for users. We would like to see a real push to ensure third party agencies employ staff with disabilities and fill their boards with at least 50 per cent members who have a disability, especially in the areas where they are being funded to aid.
The money in the budget for sexual assault services as well as for homeless shelters were all previously announced funds.
For a budget promoted as a budget to help the most vulnerable, there was almost NOTHING new. It shows that we members are simply not a priority. Sadly, this has also been previously announced or made obvious by this government. It is important to remember that we all age and will need these services in the future. We also know from experience that anyone can wake up with a disability tomorrow. Once you’re disabled, it’s far too late to get the government to listen and provide assistance.
At the end of the day, when we are on the verge of a recession, when people all across the province are hurting, when we have no housing, so many without access to medical practitioners, inflation is universally high, in a province with a billion-dollar surplus gained primarily from not spending federal dollars given for specific targets, I do not understand how this budget could have been labelled as one to help the most vulnerable. So much more could have and should have been done!
The long-term costs on social development and the healthcare system that will emerge from the neglect of the needs of the vulnerable population as well as the needs of so many lower-income middle class people teetering on the cusp of joining us at or below the poverty line will be insurmountable.
Using the word disappointment would be an understatement.
Shelley Petit is chairperson of the NB Coalition of Persons with Disabilities.