KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It’s always a challenge for a parent from out of town to take their kid to the IWK for tests or surgery, especially if it requires an overnight stay. But for people on income assistance it’s a logistical and financial nightmare.
That’s because people on income assistance are likely to have an additional problem that most other people don’t face, namely what to eat and how to pay for it. The daily meal allowance by Community Services for these occasions is just $7.00 per meal, or $21 per day, and that is supposed to cover breakfast, lunch and supper.
This while social assistance rates that put a single mother’s total annual income, including tax credits and child benefits, some $9,000 below the poverty line.
That $21 per day is not enough, Deanna tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. Deanna lives in Sydney, Cape Breton, and has to travel to Halifax fairly often to take her daughter to the IWK.
“Having the shuttle and Point Pleasant Lodge covered by Community Services is a godsent, but how on earth are we supposed to get a meal for $7? Less when you include snacks, I’m diabetic, I’m having highs and lows. And when I have a low I need to have access to food,” Deanna says.
It is hard to make ends meet when you are on social assistance. Usually Deana copes by budgeting very carefully, but no matter how careful she is, an unexpected trip to the IWK often throws all that penny pinching and planning out of the window.
“I barely slept that week before we went to Halifax the last time, trying to figure out how we were going to eat while we were there,” Deanna says.
“We usually use the GST rebate to buy clothes, or if there’s any household items we need. This time around, we’re probably not going to be able to do that, because we need at least some of that money to cover our meals,” says Deanna.
It’s a six hour drive one way, so they always end up staying overnight in Halifax. Community Services pays for their stay at the Point Pleasant Lodge, but the restaurant there is not an option. Even a simple fish and chips at its restaurant sets you back $18.99, Deanna tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. Meanwhile, the Lodge is conveniently close to hospitals, but there are no stores in the neighborhood.
It seems that the government recognizes that $21 per day for meals doesn’t cut it. Its own workers get a lot more. Provincial civil servants, including caseworkers and other Community Services staff can claim $43 per day for food, their collective agreement states.
That’s more than double what Deanna receives.
We asked Community Services about this. Turns out that the allowance hasn’t changed since 2008, never mind inflation.
“ESIA clients who need to travel outside of their local area for medical reasons can receive assistance for food, and we have used $7 per meal as a guideline since 2008. This is in addition to what is issued as part of monthly basic needs assistance for food. We encourage clients to reach out to their worker to discuss their individual circumstances and supports that are available,” writes Lynette MacLeod on behalf of the department.
Not so, says Deanna, who was told by her caseworker that the $7.00 per meal is policy and cannot be changed. She also wrote to Minister Kelly Regan and mobilized her MLA, but all to no avail.
The next appointment that my daughter has she’s having surgery, and we’re going to be there for four days, Deanna says.
“These visits are stressful enough on their own. The last thing you should have to worry about when you’re traveling to Halifax is how you’re going to feed yourself.”
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