featured Poverty

Applying for welfare will cost you

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In Nova Scotia, when you apply for social assistance you had better have some money set aside, because this is going to cost you. It’s a logistical nightmare as well. 

The application package includes a legal sized paper with a long list of documents needed just to apply for social assistance.

Let’s just look at some of the things that you must submit according to  the checklist:

A copy of your own birth certificate and, if you have children, for them as well. So when let’s say a single mum with two children applies for income assistance, she needs $30 per birth certificate. That’s $90. Then, if she lives in rural Nova Scotia, she must have postage and a cheque for the birth certificates plus transportation to get her to an Access Nova Scotia office or to her local post office. Note that it can take two to three weeks to receive these documents in the mail. How do you eat in the meantime?

Copies of bank information, tax assessment, employment insurance, etc. If these documents are online then an applicant must have access to the internet, a printer, and ink and paper for this. Internet access costs a basic amount of $80. The ink for the printer is more expensive than the printer.  The paper can cost $6 to $10 a package. If you don’t have these tools, you can go to a local charity or non profit and request to have to copies of these documents printed off. Problem? The cost of transportation to these places, especially in rural Nova Scotia.

A copy of your municipal property tax bill? That may require a trip to your local municipal office and, therefore, transportation funds.

A copy of your Notice of Assessment from the CRA? The assumption is that  you had the money to file your taxes either by yourself online (which is the cost of internet or access to the internet) or had a company like H&R Block file your taxes. Many poor people don’t file their tax returns as the paperwork intimidates them and they don’t have the money to pay someone to do it.

There are free tax preparation services for low income people? Wonderful! But how are they to get to this service if they don’t have transportation?

Need a note from your doctor for any medical needs? First, you must have a doctor. You are one of the lucky people in Nova Scotia who has a doctor? Great. Now you need to pay for transportation to get your doctor. Depending upon where you live in rural Nova Scotia, that can cost you as much as $200 or more.

Some doctors charge a fee for those notes. Better be prepared to fork some money out. But what if your doctor won’t sign the medical papers? You are going to have to find another doctor (good luck with that) and start all over again.

The application itself? You will need postage. If the applicant mails the application package into Community Services, it will cost him or her a manilla envelope and postage of $2 or $3. This may not sound like much but every dollar counts when you are broke.

In rural Nova Scotia, you will need transportation to the post office and back to your home. It could cost you anywhere from $10 to $30 or more. If you are in the city but disabled, it could cost you cab fare to the post office or Community Services office.

The letter that comes with the application package says somebody will get back to you within three to five business days. They will call you, it says. The assumption is that  you can afford a phone and the money to keep the phone active. Income Assistance does not pay for a phone unless you have a stated medical need for one. And then they will pay only the cost of a basic home line – $32 a month.

Ok, you don’t have a phone. So they will mail out a letter of response to you. In rural Nova Scotia, you’d better be prepared to walk to receive that letter. Canada Post has put in Rural Mailboxes that, in some cases, are more than 10 kilometers away from the mail recipient.

Poor people in rural nova Scotia are told that it is their decision to live where they do. I have heard numerous income assistance caseworkers say that to clients. Yet, that is where the province puts their rural social housing – far outside the towns. It is also where the least expensive housing is located. It is not a poor person’s choice.

It takes a great deal of time, organization and money to apply for social assistance. Applicants are not supposed to have any money in their bank accounts (if they even have a bank account or can afford one) at the point of their application for assistance,  yet these costly barriers are put in place.

Someone with a bit of disposable income would not be put off by these costs. Someone who is down to their last dollar would be lost. Remember, people who apply for social assistance tend to be broke. That’s why they are applying.

One cannot help wonder if all these hurdles and expenses are part of the plan to stop people from seeking assistance. It’s time for a change.

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  1. Family Pharmacare (MSI) allows applicants to sign a release so they can access required supporting documentation (Notice of Assessment) directly from Revenue Canada. This simplifies and speeds up the process significantly. Accessing information from other government departments does not need to be such a barrier. I have always had the sense that these kind of hurdles are somewhat intentional disincentives to completing applications – and they most certainly disproportionately disadvantage the most disadvantaged.

  2. This is ridiculous. Yes you should have identification, it helps if you have a health card. Hopefully a rent receipt. I do believe there are still some good intake workers out there who will not make disparaging remarks about where you happen to live. Financial service workers have a tough job, they don’t make the rules and regulations but are expected to follow them. At the end of the day, they need to remember their job is not nearly as difficult as applying for assistance. Applying for assistance should not be a punitive process. I believe it should be required that the minister of social services live on assistance for one month in public housing. A week would likely be enough to provide enough insight into the woefully inadequate allowances people on assistance are expected to survive on and likely change their definition of necessity.

  3. This is all a deliberate strategy to keep poor people who need it from applying for social assistance. Which is what they have a right to as Canadian citizens. It just goes to show that the hateful, mean spirited attitude of the past is the way of the present in Nova Scotia! It really is a shit part of the world in the Maritimes! Little wonder anyone who can leaves this awful place!

  4. If you have the necessary birth certificates you can photocopy them and the postmaster or your pharmacist can sign that they have seen the actual papers and you can use that, same for a marriage certificate and probably other papers as well.

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