The Department of Community Services wants to change how it delivers welfare. But it isn’t clear what that means, says Kendall Worth. In fact, there is reason to worry.
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Last month I attended an update on the transformation of the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program. The session was organized by the Department of Community Services.
This was the second update I attended, I also went to an earlier one in the summer of 2015. I get invited because of my connections with the Benefits Reform Action Group, of which I am the chair.
And I also went to a First Voice session, in March of last year. You can read my report here.
I walked out of the meeting both hopeful and concerned.
Many questions, few answers
During this session, everyone who was attending was hoping that there would be a presentation on what the department is doing to address people losing their special needs allowances. But there was no talk of restoring the special needs that people have lost over the years or adding new special needs.
There was also nothing presented and talked about in regards to how the new system is going to affect persons with disabilities who have no choice but to depend on the system of income assistance/welfare.
In addition there was nothing mentioned regarding allowance increases, which in itself is a real concern because as we all know people on income assistance are struggling to make ends meet with their limited allowances.
One unanswered question is whether under the new system persons with disabilities who are not expected to return to work are going to be allowed to work at least part time?
No additional money
Also during this session one of the things they talked about was turning ESIA allowances into a standard household rate. This was concerning because no actual allowance amount/rate increase was discussed. Overall it sounded like no new money will be invested into income assistance allowances.
So all BRAG members agreed that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the ESIA transformation and what the new system is going to look like. We really want to know what all different things are going to happen to different types of clients once the new system is in place.
It’s all about getting back to work
During the presentation, there was talk about what they called segmenting the caseload. There would be three different types and groups of income assistance clients, who would be treated differently.
Group one. This group would consist of people who are on income assistance and cannot work because of their disabilities and related health issues.
Group two. These are people who will be able to return to work eventually, if the right supports were in place for them, and other barriers which currently keep them from being employed could get resolved. By the way, they never explained what the right supports means.
Group three. People who are on the system only because they are unemployed for the time being.
I worry that the hammer will come down hard on people in group two and three, that portion of ESIA clients that the department believes are able to work now or at some time in the future.
My advice: don’t get your hopes up!
During the session there was also a lot of talk about changing the current system into an income based system. Even though an allowance amount that clients would be receiving was not defined, they did speak about creating a liveable income. I found understanding that part confusing, and I was not at all sure what they were talking about.
Anyway, overall I got the gut feeling that the Department is still remaining secretive about what they are really doing to change the system. So my advice is, let’s not get our hopes up!
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