KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – People on social assistance and their advocates have long complained that getting Community Services to support their transportation needs is becoming more difficult by the year.
So far evidence has mostly been anecdotal. Now a presentation by senior bureaucrats at the Community Services Standing Committee backs up this claim.
In 2015/16 7% fewer people received social assistance than in 2013/14. But in that same period Community Services’ budgets for bus and taxi fares decreased from $10.9 million to $9.3 million, which is 15% less.
Special diet and telephone spending aligned more closely with the general decrease in the number of recipients.
Budget numbers were included in a January 10 presentation by Community Services deputy minister Lynn Hartwell, and Brandon Grant, executive director for the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program.
Community Services offers transportation support only in case of medical needs and for work and training-related reasons. The department typically provides single bus tickets for each medical trip. In 2015/16 38 percent of cases received transportation supports.
The reason for the decrease was not explained. “There has been a decline in terms of the medical transportation that we see in 2015-16 partially offset by the decline in caseload, as well as other matters,” said Grant.
It should be noted that the experimental $39 discount bus pass offered to a limited number of Halifax residents on low income still represents an insurmountable cost to most people on welfare.
To give all adults on social assistance a bus pass would cost $11.1 million, Grant told the MLAs.
To put this amount in perspective, $11 million is one percent of the department’s overall budget, and 0.1 percent of all of of government’s expenses this year.
Of course, in much of rural Nova Scotia there are no buses, but there are always taxis, and additional support for transportation would offer welcome relief for many rural poor living in isolation regardless.
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