From Inclusion BC & Disability Alliance BC
Victoria, BC – September 11, 2017: BC’s Budget Update and Throne Speech include initiatives that will make a real difference for people with intellectual disabilities, children with special needs and their families, along with an important message of hope that all British Columbians are valued.
Inclusion BC and Disability Alliance BC welcome several key announcements as a positive start.
These include an additional $200/month earnings exemption for Persons With Disabilities (PWD) monthly benefits. This raises the total annual earnings exemption for 2017 to $12,000 for a single person before any reduction in their monthly PWD benefits. BC now has the highest annualized earnings exemption for disability benefit recipients in Canada.
The Budget Update also confirms new dollars for a $100/month increase in PWD rates, which was announced shortly after the new government took office. The increase takes effect in September, bringing the monthly benefit to $1,133 for a single person. The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction will also receive an additional $16 million for 2017/18 to address social assistance caseload pressures for the current year, with further increases in future years.
“British Columbians with intellectual disabilities and their families have been struggling and falling further behind for many years,” said Inclusion BC Executive Director Faith Bodnar. “These initiatives, along the overall focus on putting people first, on tackling poverty and affordability and on building a better province where everyone belongs is a very welcome message for people who have been without hope for far too long.”
“This is a good start,” added Jane Dyson, Executive Director of Disability Alliance BC. “As Finance Minister Carole James said, these increases are long overdue and we look forward to working with government on a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.”
Inclusion BC notes that many challenges remain, such as the need for a comprehensive operational review of Community Living BC that will address its financial, program and policy challenges. CLBC’s budget does not address waitlists and still reflects expectations for lowered costs per adult, which conflicts with all the evidence.
“Our federation looks forward to working with government to confront these challenges,” Bodnar said. “But we can’t overstate how important it is for British Columbians with disabilities to hear their concerns acknowledged, with concrete commitments to start on immediate improvements.”
Not included in the Budget Update, but mentioned in Friday’s Throne Speech, was confirmation that BC would reinstate a transit pass for PWD recipients, effective January 2018. Minister James confirmed the January 2018 implementation date, with “no clawbacks” from PWD benefits to fund the new pass.
Inclusion BC and DABC also welcomed the commitment to restore the transit pass, and hope to see an equitable approach to providing access to transportation for all PWD recipients.
The Budget Update included additional funding for social policy initiatives, including initial planning for a poverty reduction strategy and a basic income pilot. Inclusion BC and DABC have emphasized that a comprehensive strategy is critical to addressing poverty as a structural barrier that excludes British Columbians with intellectual disabilities from accessing many of the benefits and opportunities of full citizenship.
Other new budget initiatives to address affordability, including reduced MSP premiums and investments in affordable housing, will bring welcome relief for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
“With the affordable housing initiatives, we need to ensure there is a clear vision for inclusive housing,” Bodnar said. “We’re also looking for portable rental supplements for PWD recipients because the maximum $375 housing allowance is so out of synch with actual costs, especially in key regional markets.”
Other announcements included new investments in public schools, which are struggling to respond to the landmark 2016 Supreme Court ruling that restored former staffing ratios in teachers’ collective agreements.
“An entire generation of students with special needs and their families has suffered tremendously from cuts and underfunding of public education,” Bodnar said. “We have a real opportunity now to restore supports for inclusive education, with the commitment to reinvest in public schools and a new BC curriculum that supports teaching to diversity. We want to work with the Education Ministry, with teachers and parents to ensure that teachers have the support they need to offer quality learning opportunities for all students in inclusive classrooms. That includes restoring resources for student assessment, specialist supports, teacher training and collaboration and classroom aides”