featured Poverty

Kendall Worth: A wrinkle in the free bus pass plan

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Some people on income assistance who are currently receiving either $78 for a bus pass, or a smaller amount for bus tickets, fear that the free bus passes becoming available in the spring will mean that they will have even less money than before.

Don’t’ get me wrong. Free bus passes are a good thing. I do agree that there is a strong need for all income assistance recipients, and anyone living in poverty for that matter, to have access to free bus passes. I know quite a few people who are excited about the free bus passes becoming available.

But for some it will mean $78 less each month for groceries and rent.

You can argue that bus pass money is for bus passes. But it is a fact of life that people on income assistance have been using their bus pass money to pay for things like rent, groceries, power and phone bills, and other necessities. You do what you can to survive.

It’s like the shelter allowance is $535 per month, but rents anywhere are much higher, so people are dipping into their personal allowance to pay for their apartment. Community Services doesn’t complain that isn’t what a personal allowance is supposed to be for.

And things are getting more expensive, and income assistance isn’t keeping pace

People tell me that now when they go to the grocery store, their grocery bill at the cash register is coming to anywhere from $15 to $40 more expensive for the exact amount of groceries as always not that long ago. Rents and power bills also keep going up.

I am hearing that this issue of bus pass money being taken away is creating a lot of anxiety among people on income assistance who are now receiving it.

The reality is that when any part of the allowance of income assistance recipients gets cut or suspended, it causes the Income Assistance recipient to live their lives with more anxiety. But their clients’ anxiety is something that the department tends to ignore.

According to some I have discussed this with it would be good if the department agrees to allow keeping that $78 on their cheques to pay for other needs.  

Kendall Worth is a tireless anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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  1. I’m one of those who’ve been compelled to use my transportation allowance to help pay for electricity and other basic needs, which are barely being met. I have to visit a foodbank every month, or go hungry. My doctor tells me it’s important to eat well to maintain my health, especially for a person living with HIV. I cannot afford to ‘eat well’, simple as that, even with the so-called ‘special diet’ allowance.

    If Community Services deducts $78 from my monthly cheque, that will seriously hurt me, adding to the daily stress and hardship I’m already going through. There goes my internet connection I guess, since I won’t be able to pay for that anymore. It’s really sad, I/we shouldn’t have to be constantly fighting with Community Services just to keep the meagre assistance that I do receive. And it sucks living in fear every month of having your only means of limited income slashed by a ruthless, heartless system.

    We all need a basic income, a humane income that will enable and uplift people, instead of this cruel and degrading welfare system that keeps people living in poverty, hunger and fear.

  2. My rent is 985 each month. Assistance covers rent. Family allowance goes to bills. Whatever is left is usually about 250$- is groceries, medication, transportation, whatever. For two adults and two kids, for an entire month.
    It’s better since we moved to Halifax and found work but frustrating because we don’t make very much and what we do make is penalized because you can keep 100$ then they take 75% of the rest. We’re still so far below the poverty line, it’s stupid.

  3. I’m curious as to how you knew about this significant change to ESIA this early when I only found on on June 1st.. I was not warned about this, nor consulted about my unique circumstances with regard to transportation needs. I am in the process of starting a complaint regarding this, which is going to cause me a lot of stress and rage as it will result in nothing changing for the better, but I must protest. A quick summary of what will be in my letters to about six different people: As a wheelchair user, I cannot use regular transit. Access-A-Bus is not reliable. It is either not available or suitable for some outings (insert a long list of reasons which I’ll pass over for this comment). I receive $20 to purchase 10 bus tickets for two trips to get groceries and three medical appointments per month. I receive another $20 simply because of having a mobility issue. I was not told that I must purchase bus tickets with this money, and I don’t always do this depending on what outings I have in a particular month. For ones that require I take a taxi, that $20 covers some or most of the fare, depending on how far my trip is and whether it is both ways or one way there or back and one way there or back via Access-A-Bus. In other words, that $20 is still not enough. For this comment, I will not include the list of times/examples when I have taken a cab because the Access-A-Bus was either unavailable or unsuitable. When that $40 is cut from my cheque, I will have to pay for taxis with grocery money, further damaging my already very fragile health. In addition, my GST rebate will be reduced as it is based on one’s yearly income, which, in my case, is going down $480 (40X12). I send in my cheque stubs to Revenue Canada to show proof of my total income including special needs, not just the T5007 slip which only shows the basic amount of $9936 (828X12).

    Ironically, the possible long wait times (as mentioned in the letter I got) at the places where we have to go to get our photo taken means I will have to take a cab home as I have no way of knowing when to book a return trip with Access-A-Bus, a trip which has to be booked 8 days in advance. I hope other wheelchair users or those who cannot take transit due to mobility issues will also “remind” the government that you can’t pay for a taxi with a bus pass. Another issue I have is that it will cost taxpayers $936 a year for a buss pass that I don’t want or need. Keep your $936 piece of plastic and let me keep the $480.

    As for people spending their transportation allowance on food and other needs instead of purchasing a pass or tickets, most caseworkers know very well this is what we are doing to survive and we wouldn’t have to commit fraud (that’s what it is, sadly) if we just had enough money for out basic needs in the first place.

    1. UPDATE: I will be allowed to keep $20 of my transportation allowance because that is for mobility issues and was given to me regardless of how many medically essential outings my doctor stated I have in the special needs letter. The $20 that will be taken off my cheque was for purchasing 10 bus tickets for those five medical outings per month. However, $20 is only enough for one cab ride, not even a round trip anywhere so nothing is solved by getting a free bus pass for those who need to take taxis when the Access-A-Bus is unavailable.

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