What’s new in the provincial budget

Mental Health gets a big boost, with funding also increasing for health care, education and social services

Finance Minsiter Donna Harpauer speaks in Prince Albert on May 1, 2018 as her caucus colleagues look on. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The provincial government unveiled its 2019-20 budget Wednesday, and while the government followed through on its promise to deliver a balanced budget, it also included a handful of new initiatives local residents could see having an impact on them.

Record spend on Mental Health

The budget included a record $402 million investment in mental health, an increase of almost $30 million from last year. That includes a $13.7 million increase to support the new Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford.

A further $8.39 million in funding will be used to create about 75 new residential support beds for individuals with intensive needs transitioning back to the community, freeing up hospital space and about 50 new pre and post addiction treatment beds for individuals transitioning between detox, in-patient treatment or back to the community. That measure would more than double addiction treatment bed capacity.

As with the funding for additional physicians, it wasn’t immediately clear where those new facilities will be located.

Prince Albert will specifically benefit from another mental health initiative. The budget is providing $1.6 million to support the launch of three Rapid Acces to Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics, one each in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

The clinics provide immediate access to addictions treatment by multi-disciplinary teams.

“In other Canadian jurisdictions, they have reduced emergency department visits, shortened wait times and improved outcomes for patients,” the province said.

Further details on the RAAM clinics were not immediately available.

Other funding under the mental health umbrella supports the hiring of seven primary care counsellors, 24/7 nursing supports at the La Ronge Detox Centre, federal funding to recruit and train more health care professionals to treat addictions, 18 new mental health walk-in counselling clinics across Saskatchewan through Family Services Saskatchewan and an increase in the availability of vocational programming for those with mental illnesses.

The province said in a press release that the federal government is providing new funding of $6.275 million toward Saskatchewan’s expenditures on mental health and addictions. Some come from the Canada-Saskatchewan Bilateral Funding Agreement announced in 2017, while the rest comes from the Opioid Emergency Treatment Fund.

More details on the health and mental health programs are expected from the SHA following the budget’s release. The Herald will have full reaction from the health budget.

Education funding sees a boost

School divisions will receive $1.9 billion in operating funding for the 20919-20 school year. It’s an increase of $26.2 million, 1.4 per cent more than last year’s amount. Operating grants are also increasing for qualified independent schools and historical high schools due to increased enrolment.

While the budgeted allocation from the province’s general revenue fund (GRF) looks lower for school operating costs, the discrepancy is due to more Catholic School Divisions using their constitutional right to levy property taxes directly.

Public school divisions receive their portion of property taxes after they are funnelled through the GRF

Libraries will see a modest increase in the budget, with $11.2 million in support this year. That’s a $128,000 increase over last year.

$5.1 million in funding was also allocated on an ongoing basis to respond to recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Improving Education and Employment Outcomes for First Nations and Métis People. That includes funding for the shared services initiative, the First Nations and Métis Student Achievement and other targeted programs.

Municipalities to get more

Saskatchewan’s municipalities will see an increase in funding this year. That’s due to previously-announced measures to stabilize revenue sharing at 0.75 per cent of one percentage point of the sales tax. It also reflects an increase in federal-provincial funding initiatives

Tax credit for volunteer first responders

Volunteer firefighters and volunteer medical first responders with at least 200 hours of service in the year will be eligible for a $3,000 tax credit beginning in 2020.

Health budget increases

The provincial health budget saw an increase of $196 million, or 3.7 per cent, over last year.

The health spending includes an operating boost to the Saskatchewan health Authority.

Funding has been increased for physician services by $15 million. The increase will be used to pay for doctor visits, fund about 15 new specialist contracts and eight new primary care contracts. Where those contracts will be allocated within the provincial health care system was not immediately made clear.

The Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan also saw a funding boost in the health budget. The society is receiving over 41 million to expand its First Link services to northern and eastern Saskatchewan.

More funding is also being directed towards the training of up to 24 physiotherapists, occupational therapists or nurses in Complete Decongestive Therapy, which helps patients who suffer from lymphedema. An estimated 30,000 Saskatchewan residents have been diagnosed with the condition.

Previously-announced funding increases for children under the age of six with Autism Spectrum Disorder was included in the budget. Each family will see a $2,000 per year increase to use for supports. The measure costs $700,000 and will help about 700 children.

Social services sees increase

The social services budget continues to climb this year, seeing an increase of $55 million, or 4.7 per cent.

The biggest announcement in the budget is the creation of a program that will launch this summer for new clients. Calles the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, the provincial government is promising increased earned e=income exemptions so people can keep more of what they earn as they transition to independence. The program’s focus is on helping people overcome challenges so they can start a career or become more self-sufficient.

Details of the new program are being finalized and will be announced closer to the implementation date.

Existing Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) clients will see their earning exemptions go up, increasing to $6,000 per year for individuals, $7,200 for couples and $8.500 for families. That change is set for this summer and will cost about $6.3 million.

The budget also included some goodies for existing social services clients.

Supports for at-risk children and family are rising by $27.7 million this year, including intensive direct services for families to keep their children at home, community-based homes and group homes and private treatment for children with high needs. Additional funding will help the ministry respond that the number of families who require support, and to expand the intensive supported living initiative, which provides housing and 24/7 supports to children and families to strengthen caregiving skills and keep families together.

An additional $6.6 million was added to support of adults with intellectual disabilities, including more funding for residential and day program, new funding to improve access to respite supports for families caring for adult children with disabilities and  $3.5 million to transition youth from child and family to adult services.

Funding for third-party agencies that deliver services on behalf of the ministry will see a $5.9 million boost, including additional payments to foster families to receive training to improve caregiving skills and more money for frontline caregivers at agencies who serve children, people with intellectual disabilities and those that operate private service homes.