The B.C. government is boosting income and disability assistance cheques by $300 a month to help people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that this is a difficult time,” said Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction. “We know we have to provide supports for people.”
Before the change — which will begin with cheques issued April 22 and be in place for at least three months — an individual received $760 on income assistance or $1,183 on disability assistance, with higher amounts for families.
Simpson said the $300 benefit will go to about 205,000 people who receive direct support from the ministry, as well as 58,000 seniors who receive the B.C. Senior's Supplement and 4,000 people the province supports in specialized care facilities. The money will be sent automatically with no need to apply.
The minister also announced that anyone qualifying for Employment Insurance benefits or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for people affected by COVID-19 will be able to keep the money. The emergency response benefit provides up to $2,000 a month for four months.
“There will be no clawback on this,” Simpson said. “They will not lose their provincial benefit, income assistance or disability assistance cheque. Those cheques as they are today will remain whole.”
People receiving disability assistance can earn up to $12,000 a year without a reduction in their provincial support. Those on regular income assistance can earn $400 a month and people with “persistent multiple barriers to employment” can earn $700 without a reduction in their benefits.
People on assistance won’t be eligible for the temporary $500-a-month renters’ grant announced last week even if they meet the criteria for support, Simpson said.
As BC Transit and TransLink are currently not charging passengers, people who had been receiving bus passes will get $52 a month added to their cheques. Simpson noted other targeted supplements are available through his ministry.
Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, welcomed the changes, but had concerns.*
“I think it’s good news the government is supporting people living on income and disability assistance,” Ivanova said Thursday, noting that most other provinces have not announced anything similar. “It is largely a group that has been forgotten. It’s great to see the B.C. government stepping in to fill this gap.”
But the support should be delivered more quickly, she said. People on income and disability assistance are vulnerable and suffering with added expenses due to COVID-19 at a time when many of the services they depend on have closed.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to make this group wait until the end of April,” she said. “It could have been done faster, and it’s unfortunate it wasn’t done faster.”
Even with the added $300, incomes for people on assistance will be far below the poverty line, Ivanova said, which is around $2,000 in Metro Vancouver using Statistics Canada’s Market Basket Measure.
Basic income assistance — including the new measures — would provide a single person with about $1,100 a month.**
Ivanova also said the amount available to people on income or disability assistance remains far short of what the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will provide people who qualify.
“It is significantly less and it does raise the question of what is enough to live on.”
Ivanova told The Tyee last week the province should significantly increase the amount of money it provides to people on assistance and streamline the application process, including allowing people to keep more assets before they qualify and dropping the requirement that they look for work.
The ministry isn’t adjusting the asset test, but it is relaxing the requirement to look for work.
It makes sense to remove the expectation that people will look for jobs at time when people are being asked to stay home, and other provinces should do the same, Ivanova said.
The B.C. government has also previously announced it is providing $3 million to food banks in the province and $50 million to the United Way to provide supports to seniors, minister Simpson said.
Simpson said the measures he announced today will be in place for the next three months, and the government will continue to monitor the situation and adjust its policies accordingly.
*Story updated on April 2 to add comments from Iglika Ivanova of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
**Story updated on April 3 at 9:50 a.m. to include additional information about B.C.’s basic income assistance rate.