Dear Minister Regan,
It is very often the case that in a serious storm, a fire, or other disaster, it is the most vulnerable, marginalized, and poorest people who are most adversely affected. In the wake of Hurricane Dorian hitting Nova Scotia, this is most certainly the case.
Many people, all over the province, lost power for many days, and yet it is the folks who live on lower incomes or who are socially isolated who are generally less able to quickly recover. In the case of Employment Support and Income Assistance clients, who are the poorest in the province, things like power outages hit them hard. As you said to the CBC on September 11th, “For someone who does not have room to move financially, days is a long time”.
Your department has a very straightforward policy when it comes to helping ESIA clients when their power goes out for more than 48 hours. The policy is a little more confusing when the power has been out for less than 48, but still a long time. I had several calls to my office in the days following the hurricane and, once the policy was clarified for me, I warned folks that they would be put into an overpayment situation if they received assistance and their power had been out for less than 48 hours.
On September 11th, when the CBC published its story about your department “taking people at their word” many folks in my community and around the province took that to mean that they would receive financial help and not get charged an overpayment for it.
Now today, I have heard that some front-line Department of Community Services workers are telling people they will be charged an overpayment, if the worker knows that the individual’s power was off for less than 48 hours.
This has all been very confusing for my constituents, other clients of ESIA, and the front-line workers who support them. People are being told different things than their neighbours, getting different and conflicting information from people they trust, and what’s worse, some people will receive financial assistance without realizing it puts them in an overpayment situation until they receive their payment for October.
I am writing to ask you to do the right thing and eliminate any overpayments that would be charged for this post-Dorian assistance, and allow ESIA clients to keep 100% of any assistance they receive. If people lost any food (and food does spoil sometimes before a 48-hour threshold) they need it replaced. Could the department chalk this up to learning, let these payments go, and clarify the policy in time for the next storm?
I ask you to give this serious consideration.
Susan Leblanc is the NDP MLA for Dartmouth North. This letter was originally posted on her website, and is republished on the NS Advocate site with her kind permission.
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