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An open letter to Joanne Bernard on the state of welfare in Nova Scotia

Dear Premier Stephen McNeil and Minister Joanne Bernard,

I am writing to you in regards to the current state of welfare in Nova Scotia, and possible reforms to welfare.


I would like to see the department hire more people who have an education/background in the social sciences. We need to have more caseworkers who are in fact social workers, who have an interest in and a dedication to helping society. We need people like this and we need more of them. 200+ caseloads per worker is simply too much, no matter how qualified the worker is.

In addition, people are going months or years without a caseworker. I know someone (my mother, actually), who went months without a caseworker. One month, her cheque didnt arrive. I called the Department of Community Services. As it it turns out, her benefits expired, and because she didn’t have a caseworker, no one noticed. She was re-added to the system, but the next month she, again, didn’t receive her cheque. I called again, and again, she was re-added to the system, and she has received her cheque ever since.

My mind wanders to those who don’t have a son watching over them. What about them? It simply isn’t enough to take the “well, some people fall through the cracks” attitude that many people have, when we simply aren’t doing enough to fill in those cracks.

(As a postscript to the above, a few months ago, mom’s Dr wrote her some prescriptions. We went to the pharmacy, only to find out that her prescription coverage was removed. No notification at all. As mom will soon be 65, we decided not to pursue it. With all due respect, we just didn’t need the headache. I must point out that if it happened to mom, it has probably happened to many others.)

I would like to see the bureaucracy removed when it comes to getting an education. If you haven’t seen My Week on Welfare, I encourage you to do so. Those who can get off the system, should be helped to do so. By making it so difficult to get an education, you are also making it more difficult to get off the system.

It is my understanding that 1.5 million dollars was recently paid for two consultants to advise on how to fix the welfare system. Given the fact that Nova Scotian’s on income assistance live 30-60% or more below the poverty line, I find the amount spent on the consultants to be unconscionable. How is it that the government has 1.5 million dollars for consultants, and yet they can cut a disabled man who was living on $90 a month back to $70? Now and in the future, I kindly ask that you consult with those who are on the system. They will tell you what needs to be done. At the top of everyone’s list will be “raise the rates”.

I encourage you to re-evaluate what you consider “special needs”. Phone and transportation aren’t special needs; They are basic needs, plain and simple. In the push to get people off the system, we cannot forget about the people (disabled people) who will likely always be on the system. A telephone and means of transportation are necessary to be a part of society, which in turn is a part of good physical, mental and emotional health.

I look forward to your response.

Tim Blades

This letter was sent to Minister Joanne Bernard and Premier Stephen McNeil in November of 2015. Tim never received a response to the letter, but he was invited to attend a first voice focus group on the ongoing Community Services transformation as a result.

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  1. A much needed, factual and well balanced letter. Having experienced welfare ourselves, and for many of the good folks we served across Canada, YT to NL (and NS) over fifty years we can
    certainly relate to this timely letter.. Keep on the good witness for all. Thank you for caring.
    Fr. ByronTDC.

  2. Yes and thank you.
    And… Please stop abdicating responsibilities downloading to NGOs like Easter Seal who can’t possibly meet the needs of the growing disabled & poor

  3. Here is the response I received.

    Dear Mr. Blades:
    Thank you for your e-mail of December 3, 2015 to the Honourable Stephen McNeil with respect to the current state of and possible reforms to welfare in Nova Scotia. The Premier’s office forwarded your e-mail to the Honourable Joanne Bernard, Minister of Community Services, and she has requested that I respond to you on her behalf, as Executive Director of Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA).
    We have heard clearly from clients, staff, and advocates that tweaking the current system is not enough. Many of the points that you raise in your email regarding transformation underscore the reasons we need to change the system.
    The Department of Community Services (DCS) is creating a system that is administratively simple, streamlined and integrated, accountable, transparent, and sustainable. Our transformed system will focus on simplifying administration, segmenting the client base, defining adequacy, targeting the interventions, and streamlining services. Over the summer months, DCS met with 200 community stakeholders and 100 frontline ESIA staff. The Department is now in the process of preparing for sessions with clients. We are eager to hear suggestions directly from clients, as they know firsthand what is working and what needs to be changed.
    The feedback provided by clients, the community groups, citizens and advocates (such as yourself) will help to guide the work of transformation. We know that the substantial changes being proposed will improve the lives of our clients and ensure that our system is sustainable. That is why we are seeking expertise to work with us in this transformation process. Using consultants allows our caseworkers to continue the important daily work of serving clients while still contributing their expertise as appropriate.
    I look forward to further discussions with community, and in particular with recipients of ESIA, regarding how our programs and systems can change in a way that supports the citizens involved in our programs and services to move toward increased self-sufficiency and improved quality of life. We would welcome your participation in our upcoming “First Voice consultation”.
    Thank you, again, for taking the time to share your own concerns regarding your mother, and for providing specific suggestions for change.

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