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Cough up stipend for disadvantaged volunteers, demand non-profits

Foot dragging by B.C.'s government is keeping people with disadvantages from doing volunteer work that would help enrich their lives, say frustrated non-profits.

Advocates around the province have called upon the Ministry of Social Development to end the practice of waitlisting applicants for its Community Volunteer Supplement (CVS) program.

The CVS was originally established to provide a way into the community for people who, because of their disabilities or other challenges, have a hard time getting a job.

But the government is ignoring its own laws by putting candidates in a queue rather than providing them a monthly stipend to supplement their volunteer work, say a range of critics.

Led by the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS), a Victoria-based legal aid and advocacy group, the 17 organizations charge that by wait listing applicants for indeterminate periods of time, the ministry is effectively denying the supplement to up to seven thousand legally entitled clients.

The CVS is $100 a month made available to British Columbians who wish to volunteer at least 10 hours per month with a non-profit agency but, for reasons relating to physical and mental disability or child rearing obligations, cannot easily find work.

According Kelly Newhook, Executive Director of TAPS, the legality of the issue is straightforward: "There's nothing in the legislation -- the act or the regulation -- that allow for this wait list," says Newhook. "We've gone to an administrative tribunal repeatedly over this issue and the tribunal has agreed in every single case: there's nothing in the law that allows the Ministry to wait list people. The Ministry is not abiding by its own legislation."

"The Ministry is currently working on a number of potential options to improve the administration of the supplement and address the waitlist," the Ministry replied to The Tyee in an email.

While the ministry's email did not respond to the broader legal claims made by TAPS, it did highlight the exceptional nature of the CVS program while directing waitlisted clients to related provincial services.

"British Columbia is one of only a few provinces that provide a supplement to clients who volunteer," said the Ministry. "Even while a client is on the waitlist, the ministry provides other programs and supports that can help offset the cost of volunteering."

Such supports are insufficient, says Newhook.

"We have some of the highest poverty rates and lowest disability benefits in the country. This $100 a month is vital in ensuring that these people do get out into the community to participate and contribute."

Ben Christopher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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