Disability assistance increasing by $77/mo

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 1 2016

This past week, the provincial government came under fire for a shift in how funding is provided to the 100,000 people in British Columbia on disability assistance.

Key to the issue was the province’s claim that it was investing $170 million to give those on disability assistance a rate increase of up to $77 a month as of September 1, 2016.

Part of the shift, and what drew the ire of many in communities serviced by BC Transit, is the cancellation of the “bus pass” program. According to the government, this is being done to provide people on disability assistance with more choice in how they receive transportation supports. 

Currently, around half of the people with the Person with Disabilities (PWD) designation receive either a subsidized BC Bus Pass at a cost to the ministry of $52 a month, or a special transportation subsidy equivalent to $66 a month. 

The rest, particularly those living in smaller communities such as Gabriola, receive no transportation support at all. 

The province said this has created an inequity in the current system, and the September change will bring fairness to the ministry’s transportation supports. 

Once the changes are in effect, all people with the PWD designation (including those on Gabriola) will receive up to $77 cash per month to be spent however they wish, be that on transit (including GERTIE or the Gabriola Taxi Saver), or food, or housing, or anything else.

The base disability rate is, with the $77 per month increase, being raised from $906 per month to $983 per month. People on disability assistance can still access a subsidized bus pass through the ministry for $52 per month plus the annual $45 administration fee. 

Provincial staff said that in some communities a monthly bus pass costs less than that, and people may be better off purchasing a pass directly from their local transit provider. 

On Gabriola, an adult monthly GERTIE pass is $40. A youth monthly pass is $35.

The BC NDP were among those to criticize the provincial government’s move, saying in a media statement, “In this year’s BC Budget, Christy Clark increased disability rates for the first time in nine years then clawed back most of the increase by cancelling free bus passes for people with disabilities. Christy Clark is simply giving with one hand, and taking with the other.

“Christy Clark and her supporters are the only ones who seem to think they didn’t cancel the free bus pass program.

“She praises herself by calling it “a rate increase that will benefit everyone, including people who will continue to use a bus pass and people who never had a bus pass. All of those individuals are going to benefit from this.”

Doug Routley, NDP MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, said his political objection to the move is the BC Liberals standing up “and patting themselves wildly on the back for raising the rates...then we find out the people paying for it are the ones losing their bus passes.”

According to the BC Government’s press release, other initiatives in Budget 2016 are designed to help low-income families.

The senior’s $1,000 Home Renovation Tax Credit has been extended to people with a disability. And with changes to MSP, an additional 335,000 people will see their premiums reduced, including 70,000 single parent families - and an additional 45,000 people will no longer pay MSP premiums at all. 

The government also said BC was the first province to annualize earnings exemptions for people with disabilities, whose ability to work may fluctuate. They can now earn up to $9,600 per year. 

The Single Parent Employment Initiative was launched in September 2015, giving single parents on income or disability assistance the supports they need to overcome barriers to employment and build a better future for their families. Nearly 2,000 single parents are taking part in the initiative. 

Child support payments are now fully exempt for 3,200 families on income and disability assistance - and monthly income exemptions have doubled from $200 to $400 a month for families with children, and increased from $300 to $500 a month for families who have a child with a disability.