featured Poverty

Joanne Bernard’s refusal to raise welfare rates hurts kids

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When you’re on welfare in Nova Scotia you face heart wrenching choices.

Shall I take my medication or pay my power bill?  Shall I pay the rent or buy groceries? Shall I skip dinner tonight so my kids can eat?

The fact is,  people on welfare in Nova Scotia  don’t receive enough money to live.

People don’t think that there are hungry kid out there…there definitely are.  —Nova Scotia mother

A 2013 report by FoodArc, a Mount Saint Vincent University-based research centre, shows how a single pregnant woman dependent on income assistance can’t afford a basic nutritious diet by a long shot. She’d be short $511 per month.

Similarly, a single mother with three children receiving income assistance would be short $715.00 per month after buying nutritious foods and covering other monthly expenses.    

As a result lots of people, lots of kids, go to bed hungry in Nova Scotia.

My rent is $1350 a month. I only get $620 from social assistance for rent. I can’t take my rent and buy food and I cannot not pay my power to get food, it is just always rent or food, or power or food. —Nova Scotia mother

In the long run things aren’t getting any better.

Total welfare incomes in Nova Scotia have remained flat since 1989 (in constant 2013 dollars), states the 2015 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia, issued by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

And in the very short term, since the Liberals took power, things have gotten worse.

It used to be that people on welfare would receive a small cost of living increase each year. But not any more.

Meanwhile that same cost of living increased by almost three percent since 2013, the first year of the freeze.  

And that is before the relatively recent phenomenon of a low loonie really started pushing grocery prices upwards.

Did you ever go to bed and wonder if your child was getting enough to eat? …I go to bed and he would start crying in the night and I would think that he was hungry.  — Nova Scotia mother

Community Services minister Joanne Bernard tells people struggling to make ends meet to lower expectations.  

She wants a social assistance review to run its course before she does anything. It could be as late as 2018 before that review is completed.

“In terms of money at this point in time: nothing,” Bernard told the CBC this summer when asked what would happen to the rates.

“We are working on benefit reform to make sure we look at the longer term. We know that incremental changes, $2 here and $5 there, does not make a substantial difference in the lives of people,” she said.

It’s true that a cost of living  increase doesn’t make a substantial difference, but it sure helps.

The minister’s argument is a bad one. There is no way that a bureaucratic review stops her from offering that increase. They are two separate things.

The real reason, you have to assume, is that not increasing the rates will help balance the budget.

Penny pinching for the sake of saving a mere $3 million per year, an amount much less than even half a percent of the overall Community Services budget.

And saving that money by depriving people who face the most difficult life imaginable.   

That’s just plain barbaric.

Block quotes are from the CCPA NS Child Poverty Report Card 2013, by Lesley Franck