KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – For this installment of Lives on Welfare we meet up with Bernice (not her real name). Bernice is a single woman on social assistance who lives in social housing somewhere in Nova Scotia.
Facing growing debts on her power bill, Bernice managed to save $85 per month on electricity. Community Services promptly reduced her allowance by that same amount.
After Bernice pays her rent and her power bill, she has $140 left over to buy food and other living necessities for the month. She doesn’t have a phone.
I am most concerned that they just cut my assistance again, this time by $85. They’re taking that money a result of me lowering my power bill to have a couple of extra dollars. They say oh, we’re taking that, we’re paying you too much for your power. Nothing can you do. I tried to save some extra money.
I am saving on electricity because I don’t leave things plugged in. I don’t have a lot anyway. I have my freezer. I wash in cold water, I hang things on my line, stuff like that, it helps. I use warm water to bathe and do my dishes in, that’s all. Our electricity heats our hot water tanks, that’s what makes it expensive. It adds up, every time you use hot water, especially when my daughter lived here with her baby.
I got this letter saying your income assistance payment will be reduced, effective September 16, because your power bill has decreased. You have the right to appeal, 30 days blabla bla, all that stuff. The letter is dated august 18, but I received it on the 29th. My reduced cheque went in the bank on the 27th.
I told my caseworker, “I am doing my best, I am saving money and you’re taking it from me.” It’s frustrating to even think about it. My stress levels has gotten worse, every time I have to deal with Social Services my stress level goes up, and I told her so, I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
I said, “I know this is your job, I know you’re not responsible, you’re just doing your job, but I will tell everybody, Joanne Bernard, whoever, when you go on Social Assistance your mental health gets worse. You people are responsible for the way people’s mental health shifts, you make it worse, you don’t do anything to help people.”
What do you do? What do you do? I am just exhausted, from arguing. I am taking my frustration out on my worker, but she has no control, so she takes the crappy end of it. But if you are so frustrated she is the one you vent too, and I keep apologizing to her, “I am sorry, I know it’s not your fault.”
I fell behind with my power bills, I just did not have the money. In March I owed them $1500. So I called my caseworker about my power bill. I said, “I need some help here, there is no way with the amount you allow me that I am able to pay this bill.” My caseworker said that before we can help you, you have to contact the churches and the support organizations, and look for help.
That’s what she told me, and that’s what I did, I went to Parker Street, the Salvation Army, I called some other churches. With their help we brought it down to $462. I did that. Community Services didn’t pay anything on it, not yet. Then another bill came through, and it went up again, it was $600, now it is up to $805 again. Yet I am saving money on my bills. How am I going to catch up on this bill?
Last week I got my red doorknob notice, it’s the last notice you get before they cut your power. When I told my caseworker, she said you have to go and contact the churches, other support organizations. I said, you must take notes, I did all that. I said, just pay this off please. I asked her for a trustee, just pay my bills and send me what’s left over. That will be very little.
The system is broken. It’s more than broken. It’s like Humpty Dumpty.
This is part 1 of Bernice’s story. There is more to come.