British Columbians receiving disability or income assistance payments will see an increase of $175 a month starting in April.
The amount falls short of the $300-a-month benefit the government provided to people on assistance from April until December, a benefit it has been under pressure to make permanent.
“Now that we’re seeing some signs of economic recovery from COVID-19 it’s essential that we provide some stability for people and families, including 49,000 children who are living in poverty,” said Nicholas Simons, the minister of social development and poverty reduction.
With the increase announced today, the NDP government will have permanently raised the rates by $325 a month since coming to office, Simons said.
“This is the largest permanent increase, and the third increase since we formed government in 2017,” he said. “It’s the largest single increase in the history of British Columbia.”
Before the increase, and not including the temporary raise during the pandemic, an individual received a base amount of $760 on income assistance or $1,183 on disability assistance, with higher amounts for families.
Some 300,000 people get direct support from the ministry.
A coalition of advocacy groups and the BC Liberal opposition have called on the government to make the $300-a-month COVID-19 supplement permanent. The government reduced the supplement to $150 a month for January, February and March and it was scheduled to end April 1.
In the legislature today BC Liberal critic and Peace River North MLA Dan Davies said more than 11,000 people had signed a petition asking that the $300 payments be made permanent.
“It is hard to believe that this government has decided to make it harder for those with disabilities to make it through this pandemic,” Davies said.
“What I'd like to do is encourage this government to take accountability for the cuts that they've made to disabilities recently. You know, this minister should be actually paying attention to the voices of the people on disability assistance and low-income seniors, instead of trying to dodge the accountability that we're seeing right now.”
Responding to Davies, Simons said the previous BC Liberal government raised rates by just $100 over 12 years and refused to create a poverty reduction strategy.
He contrasted that with the increase the NDP has made since forming government in 2017, noting the current government has developed a poverty reduction strategy and has been putting funding into child care and housing.
Simons also noted that the one-time COVID-19 recovery benefit of $500 for singles and $1,000 for couples and families is available to people receiving disability and income assistance without affecting their monthly payment amounts.
“I'm not used to the opposition taking an interest in issues of poverty or social concerns,” Simons said in the legislature. “If this is a signal of a newfound interest in the lives of people who live in poverty, I welcome it, and I would like to encourage more interest in this as we go forward.”
The increase to rates announced today will cost about $400 million a year. The government’s total operating budget is around $60 billion a year.
Simons said the government is also increasing the seniors’ supplement by $50 a month, which doubles the maximum and will benefit about 80,000 seniors.
Read more: Rights + Justice, BC Politics
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