Tuesday, 19 November 2019
featured Poverty

Kendall Worth: Community Services special diet nonsense is here to stay

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When it comes to special diet allowances there seems to be no end to the systematic issues and bureaucratic nonsense that income assistance recipients are subjected to.

I recently heard from a woman who needs a special diet for milk/dairy or lactose intolerance, and in this case there is yet another bureaucratic twist.

Section 6.3.3 of the ESIA Policy Manual says that she is entitled to $30 or more. “Based on specific dietary requirements with supporting medical documentation, can approve a higher amount up to maximum,” the manual states.

Anyway, as no surprise to me, the doctor’s note did not get accepted at face value by the caseworker. This is an ongoing problem I have written about often, More special diet blues is just one example of such a story.

See also: Kendall Worth: Community Services case worker knows better than doctor about special diet requirement

Conversations between the woman’s caseworker and doctor have been going on for four months now. That kind of back and forth happens far too often, but I have never before heard about these conversations going on for that long.

The caseworker argued with her doctor that the need for this special allowance needs to be further examined by a dietitian.  

Keep in mind that these doctors who write the special notes have gone to school seven or more years of their lives to study to become doctors! Why do we have a system where this needs to happen?  

The other thing that made everything difficult is that this recipient does not qualify for MSI to cover her visit to a dietitian. The caseworker suggested that she can see a dietitian who works at Sobeys.  The caseworker told her, we look at notes from a grocery store dietitian as long as they are registered.

I asked the Department of Community Services about this, and if things will change for the better.

Here is the answer I got  from Shannon Kerr, a spokesperson for the department.

“We cannot speak to specific cases,” she wrote. 

“As special diets under ESIA must be for medical reasons, medical documentation is required and can be accepted from a medical doctor, nurse practitioner or registered dietitian. It is not unusual for a caseworker to require clarification from the medical practitioner who has provided the documentation if, for example, all of the required information was not provided, or the information was unclear. There are currently no changes planned for the special diet allowances, however as part of our ongoing commitment to improve the ESIA program, we continue to review regulations and policies with the aim of making enhancements that better meet the needs of our clients,” wrote Kerr.

So chances that this nonsense will be resolved during the transformation are not looking good.


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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One Comment

  1. With bullshit. Caseworkers are not Doctors. The Doctors advise should always come first, with a note from Doctors first. Not Social Services.

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