Province challenged on changes to social assistance

Regina MLA Meara Conway is the NDP critic for Social Services, Housing and Human Rights.

The province has been challenged by group of homeless advocates and Regina MLA Meara Conway(NDP) to modify the two-year-old Social Income Support program.

The program was first announced in January 2019, replacing the Sask. Assistance Program and the Transitional Employment Allowance.

However, Conway said that it is impossible for people to live on the dollars provided, saying no one could do it, not even herself.

“Let me be perfectly clear – I cannot. I venture to say that nobody could do that. This amount is grossly inadequate,” she said.

The allowance currently given for a single person is $285 per month, in addition to a shelter allowance of $525.

A family of four would receive $285, plus $65 monthly per child and a shelter allowance of $750 per month.

Some benefits, such as the Canada Child Benefit and GST rebates are exempt but other sources of income can be deducted from the allowance provided.

Other changes include deductions of advanced money for damage deposit and the fact that basic utilities are no longer paid at actual costs. Instead they are included in the shelter benefit.

“Already one third of those on the program are at risk of eviction. We’re hearing from the Landlord association that nearly ½ could not afford their full rent in Sept. And 30 per cent did not pay their rent at all,” said Carr.

We are currently facing a crisis and I want to emphasize this is a crisis of the government’s own making. This was a slow moving car crash,” she said.

Prince Albert has about 100 homeless people, according to a recent federal survey. In the 2016 federal census, 3,370 households were also identified as spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter costs.

Peter Gilmer from the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry said that the result of increased homelessness was predictable.

 “We predicted right off the bat that this was going cause incredible hardship for people and a growth in homelessness. Two years later, that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” he said.

His office works with 2,000 – 2,500 cases annually and he said that some parts of the previous system need to be re-instated.

“We know that the direct payment system is an option that people need to have,” said Gilmer. “People had the option to have their bills paid directly, to have their rents paid directly. That option is no longer there and certainly we’re seeing hardship connected to that.”

The issue is province-wide, however, and some benefits drop slightly for those outside of Saskatoon and Regina.

“We’re dealing with a systemic problem that affects thousands and thousands of people across Saskatchewan. This is a public policy question. This is a legislative question,” Gilmer said. “These rates have been too low for too long. But this has taken them to a new depth of despair for many households.

“We want the minister to come back to the table. Adequacy is the key piece to be dealt with.”

The group is asking the province to return to paying rents directly to landlords and to provide shelter for homeless people before winter.