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Province freezes welfare programs

*story updated at 2:17 pm, Wednesday July 8, 2009

VANCOUVER - The need for income assistance in B.C. is expected to exceed what the government has budgeted for -- by $100 million, according the BC New Democrats.

The BC NDP released an internal Ministry of Housing and Social Development Powerpoint presentation that shows the status of monthly caseloads. Employment and assistance caseloads have increased from 100,000 in 2007 to 120,000 this year, and is expected to peak at 147,000 by next summer.

Also released was a leaked email from Heather Davidson, assistant to the deputy minister of housing and social development. It states; "we have had to make the difficult decision to freeze spending on direct purchases, effective immediately"

"By the documents that we've seen, beginning in June they froze a number of direct purchase programs that include adult basic education, English as a second language, vocational assessments, programs around foreign credentials," said NDP social development critic Shane Simpson.

"It makes no sense to be freezing out a number of programs that might assist people to get back into the workplace."

Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said the 147,000 projection was a 'worst-case scenario' and told The Tyee the ministry temporarily froze certain categories of spending while it determines which are most important.

"People should know this: The provision of social assistance is a statutory responsibility," said Coleman. "No person that would qualify for welfare would not get paid. Any indication from the NDP that we are gong to cut welfare rates is not true."

In April, The Tyee reported on how B.C.’s 'overly complex' welfare system has kept needy off rolls, and how government overpaid private contractors who provided job placement programs.

Last week, the ministry announced that responsibility for transition houses and related support services would be transferred to crown corporation BC Housing. Minister Coleman said that decision was not based on budgetary concerns.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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