KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As Kendall Worth reported earlier, the Benefits Reform Action Group (BRAG), a group of local poverty advocates, is no longer interested in discussions with Community Services bureaucrats that go nowhere.
In September 2017 BRAG approached the Community Services Standing Committee, a group of MLAs mandated to oversee the department, because many income assistance recipients have issues with the mandatory Annual Review. These meetings with a caseworker are often felt to be humiliating, intrusive and unnecessary.
After some back and forth the Standing Committee suggested BRAG discuss this issue with Brandon Grant, an executive director at the department.
In this letter, sent yesterday to the Standing Committee, BRAG explains that nothing ever comes of these meetings with bureaucrats.
“We as the BRAG membership believe that you as Standing Committee members, as actual elected MLAs, have the authority to fight for the change that many of us in the community are asking for within the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program,” writes the group.
Legislative Committees Office
One Government Place, 2nd Floor
1700 Granville Street
PO Box 2630 Station M
Halifax, NS B3J 3P7
Dear Community Service Standing Committee:
We, as the Benefits Reform Action Group, are writing this letter to inform you of what has happened since your committee passed our letter on to the Department of Community Services. Following your June 5th, 2018 Standing Committee meeting, Department of Community Services staff Shelia Thomson got in touch with us and offered some dates to meet with ESIA Executive Director Brandon Grant.
We as BRAG members were not surprised to get this response from the Department, because when other groups have written to the Premier and the Minister of Community Services asking for meetings, the same thing happened. Instead of being offered the chance to speak with the Premier and/or the Minister, those groups also were redirected to meet with Brandon Grant. Mr. Grant has always been the one who has responded to these letters that were otherwise sent the Minister and Premier. Even though BRAG has not yet met with Brandon Grant, other groups have, as mentioned above.
Through those other groups the whole issue of annual reviews, and our concerns regarding them for ESIA clients have been brought up time and time again with Brandon. He appears to be unable to address these concerns. We at BRAG believe strongly that you as MLAs, along with the Minister of Community Services and the Premier have more authority to address concerns, and make changes to the system than does Mr. Grant.
We at BRAG would like to suggest you as the Standing Committee bring Mr. Grant as a witness and ask for another update on the status of the ESIA Transformation. Also we suggest asking more specifically about annual reviews and how they will change under the Transformation, and what is being done to address the negativity of them.
The remaining content of this letter will explain why we are suggesting this.
At our July 10th 2018 BRAG meeting, we as the BRAG group in whole had a discussion about the Standing Committee’s decision to pass the letter onto the Department, as well the dates that were offered for us to meet with Brandon Grant. This group discussion turned out to be quite long and very intense. We ended up coming to the decision to not meet with Brandon Grant.
The BRAG membership as in a whole came to this decision for the following reasons:
- BRAG is familiar with other groups who have been meeting with Brandon Grant. These groups include the Basic Income Group, and the Community Society to End Poverty, and ESIA Working Group. When any group meets with Brandon, part of his response includes his saying “he does not have authority to make change.” Members of BRAG are incredibly frustrated with this response.
- We as the BRAG membership believe that you as Standing Committee members as actual elected MLAs, have the authority to fight for the change that many of us in the community are asking for within the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program.
- A new group called Community Agenda for Social Assistance Adequacy and Reform (CASAR) was formed in Fall 2017. BRAG is one of 30 signatories on CASAR agenda for collaboration with the government on the redesign of the ESIA program. The document was provided to DCS in December 2017. BRAG’s concerns are being voiced through this group.
Overall BRAG members are frustrated with the lack of collaboration in the redesign of the program and manner in which decision-making on program changes are being made with little public input and no public accountability.
BRAG members believe any program changes should be done in direct collaboration with the people most affected by them – the people who are recipients of Income Assistance. This includes the issue of the annual reviews.
However the overall question becomes: “How can we meet with the bureaucrats and employees of DCS when we know we are going to put in a position where our voices are not being heard?” This is exactly the feeling in the air within the whole membership of BRAG. Also, we at BRAG understand that even though this issue is important, this is only one piece of the puzzle included in the overall problems with Income Assistance.
Benefits Reform Action Group
Like and follow the Benefits Reform Action Group (BRAG) on Facebook.
For more info on CASAR visit the CASAR website
If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia. A paywall is not an option, since it would exclude many readers who don’t have any disposable income at all. We rely entirely on one-time donations and a tiny but mighty group of dedicated monthly sustainers.
Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again.