Clarifying Income Assistance Services Oped

first_imgOver the past two years, the province has made great progress in improving benefits for low-income individuals and families. More than $100 million has been invested, the most significant investment in a decade. At the same time, I understand that people on income assistance can have special health- and employment-related needs that they could simply not afford without additional help. That is why we increased our special needs budget by 15 per cent, or $6 million, over the last two years. We are also working to improve transparency, equity and fairness within our income assistance program, principles that I know advocates support, and in fact, have asked for. On Aug. 8, the regulations for special needs funding in the Employment Support and Income Assistance program were amended to achieve these goals. Since the amendments were announced, some questions have come up that I want to address. First and foremost, the amendments have no effect on our existing clients. All clients will continue to receive special needs funding for what they are receiving now, as long as they continue to need it. Second, income assistance clients deserve to know what special needs funding they are, and are not, eligible to receive. This supports the principle of transparency. Third, regulations will be clearer for caseworkers and appeal boards. Given that we have more than 400 caseworkers in the province, they deserve to have clear regulations to work with to ensure that decisions around funding are fair and consistent across the province. The same goes for appeal boards. Without clear rules, different decisions can be made that reduce fairness for all clients. Finally, these amendments do not represent substantial changes in the types of special needs that will be covered. We continue to cover everything that the program was designed to cover, including things like transportation to medical appointments, eyeglasses, prescription drugs, child care, dental work and funeral arrangements. And, contrary to what has been reported, physiotherapy and psychiatric counselling continue to be insured services. We are making it clear that non-insured services, such as massage, gym memberships or medical marijuana, will not be covered in the future. Even through appeal or caseworker decisions, only 20 to 25 of our current clients were approved for such funding over the past 10 years. And, again, their funding is protected. I understand how difficult it is for individuals and families on income assistance, and that change can bring questions. I would encourage anyone on income assistance who is concerned to call their caseworker for help. It is important for us to continue to share information so we have common understanding of the facts and ensure that individuals and families with special needs continue to get the help they deserve. -30-last_img

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