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BC Raises Disability Benefits to Cover Transportation Costs

Increase effectively restores 2016 cuts to bus pass program under BC Liberals.

By Andrew MacLeod 3 Oct 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia government will add a $52 transportation supplement to the monthly cheques for people receiving disability assistance payments.

“We’ve tried to simplify this and we’ve tried to ensure that it was fair to everybody,” said Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction.

Starting Jan. 1, the new payment will automatically be added to disability payments and can be used however the recipient chooses. The amount was chosen to match the cost of a TransLink pass in Metro Vancouver.

The previous government had made changes to the program in its February 2016 budget, when it increased assistance rates but required people to buy their own bus pass, essentially negating the raise.

The heavily criticized change was met with protests on the legislature steps and put then minister Michelle Stilwell on the defensive.

“We felt it important we be able to correct and repair this issue as a priority for our government,” Simpson said today. “Since being appointed to the position of minister, I probably have heard from more people about the bus pass than about any other particular issue.”

Simpson said he consulted with representatives of organizations advocating for people with disabilities and that the change announced today recognizes people need to have the resources to make their own choices about how to spend money for transportation. Someone in rural B.C. could use the money to give a neighbour $20 once in a while for a lift to the grocery store, he said.

Faith Bodnar, the executive director of Inclusion BC, said, “It’s fair, it’s a just way to address transportation.”

Her organization had been among those pressing hard for the government to fix the policy. “I’m very pleased today that the new government has made transportation for people with disabilities a priority, not only for those who choose a bus pass, but for everyone in the community,” she said.

The executive director of the Disability Alliance BC, Jane Dyson, said, “Today we see a very, very significant fix to the program that was implemented a number of months ago ... The disability community is extremely encouraged by the direction the new government is taking.”

She said she looked forward to working together with the government on a poverty reduction plan.

Neil Belanger, the executive director of the B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, said that transportation is a barrier for many people, especially in remote communities where transit is unavailable, and that the government had made an important step to address the need.

Bodnar, Dyson and Belanger all attended Monday’s government announcement.

Simpson acknowledged that some people may choose to use the money for other priorities. “We know the reality is even with the increase we put in, there are people who struggle to make ends meet,” he said. In B.C., even people with higher incomes than what disability assistance pays struggle to make ends meet, he said.

As of Oct. 1, a single person receiving disability assistance gets $1,133 a month.

Once the transportation change is fully implemented it will cost about $70 million a year. The B.C. budget is in the order of $50 billion a year.  [Tyee]

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