EDI­TO­RI­ALS As­sis­tance rates get a boost

Times Colonist - - Comment -

The pro­vin­cial govern­ment is eas­ing the bur­den on peo­ple who re­ceive dis­abil­ity as­sis­tance, with an ex­tra $52 a month for trans­porta­tion costs. With the for­mer B.C. Lib­eral govern­ment’s miserly treat­ment of the poor still fresh in many minds, the NDP seems de­ter­mined to show a kinder face to those in need.

Shane Simp­son, min­is­ter of so­cial de­vel­op­ment and poverty re­duc­tion, said last week the first sup­ple­ment will ap­pear on Dec. 20 cheques, to cover the pe­riod be­gin­ning Jan. 1.

In a move that ce­mented its rep­u­ta­tion for pinch­ing pen­nies through the mis­ery of peo­ple who couldn’t fight back, the for­mer govern­ment raised pay­ments to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties by $77 month, but at the same time started charg­ing them $52 a month for a bus pass that used to cost $45 a year.

For many peo­ple, that slashed the in­crease to a pal­try $25 a month.

The NDP in op­po­si­tion and ad­vo­cates for the dis­abled de­manded the Lib­er­als undo what they called a “claw­back.” Now in power, the NDP is putting its money where its mouth was.

Un­der the NDP’s plan, the ad­di­tional $52 can be used to get an an­nual bus pass or can be used for other trans­porta­tion costs.

The new sub­sidy will go to ev­ery­one who qual­i­fies for dis­abil­ity as­sis­tance, and won’t af­fect other sup­ports, such as hous­ing sub­si­dies. It will cover 110,000 to 115,000 peo­ple and will cost about $70 mil­lion.

The de­ci­sion is a wel­come ad­di­tion to a move al­ready made by the new govern­ment to in­crease all in­come as­sis­tance. As of Oct. 1, as­sis­tance rose by $100 a month, which takes the rate for in­di­vid­u­als to $1,133 a month.

In ad­di­tion, the govern­ment in­creased the earn­ings ex­emp­tion. Those on dis­abil­ity as­sis­tance will be able to earn up to $12,000 a year be­fore their sup­port cheques will be docked. The pre­vi­ous level was $9,600.

The num­bers are still so low that life is a strug­gle for those try­ing to sur­vive on as­sis­tance in ex­pen­sive cities such as Vic­to­ria and Van­cou­ver. How­ever, the in­crease in the earn­ings ex­emp­tion at least gives peo­ple a chance to bring in ex­tra cash with­out be­ing pe­nal­ized, and per­haps im­prove life for them­selves.

Taken to­gether, the govern­ment’s moves of­fer hope to peo­ple who are liv­ing on the edge.

Vic­to­ria res­i­dent Steve Ber­trand said: “I had ba­si­cally some­thing like $42 a month be­fore gas and food, af­ter all my ex­penses were taken care of. So the fact that they’ve es­sen­tially added $152 to that, in the next cou­ple of months, it’s go­ing to change a lot of things for a lot of peo­ple.”

For fel­low Vic­to­ri­ans who could eas­ily drop $42 on a break­fast for two on a Satur­day morn­ing, get­ting by on that much dis­pos­able in­come for a month is al­most unimag­in­able.

Sadly, it is more than imag­in­able for those on as­sis­tance — it’s daily life.

The govern­ment has given a help­ing hand to many who need it. The chal­lenge will be to make sure that those peo­ple are not for­got­ten once the new cheques are cut.

Hot rods and classic cars roll by in the cer­e­mo­nial first drive on the West Shore Park­way on Oct. 4. Lang­ford has made it a pri­or­ity to ex­pand in­fra­struc­ture and of­fer in­cen­tives to at­tract busi­nesses, so res­i­dents can live and work in the com­mu­nity.

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