SOCIAL ASSISTANCE AND RELATED PROGRAMS
Major Changes in Social Assistance
from January 1993 to September 1994
Major Changes in Social Assistance
from January 1993 to September 1994
This update summary provides an overview of major social assistance program changes since this document was last updated in January 1993. Users who wish to monitor social assistance program trends and developments over time might consider retaining this summary and subsequent ones for later reference. Please note, however, that this report does not purport to be comprehensive, i.e., areas such as health care services, social services and benefits to persons in need in institutions are not covered.
Social Assistance Dependency
On a national scale, social assistance dependency (i.e., social assistance beneficiaries as a percentage of the population) increased from 5.7% in March 1981 to 10.6% in March 1994.
Cost-containment Initiatives in Social Assistance
In recent years, most Canadian jurisdictions have implemented
or maintained cost-containment measures within their respective social assistance
programs, in an attempt to hold the line on social program expenditures (or,
in some cases, to actually reduce those expenditures). The types of initiatives
undertaken by various jurisdictions can be grouped under five general headings:
- Reductions in social assistance coverage;
- More stringent financial eligibility conditions;
- Improved case management and district initiatives;
- Alternate sources of financial support; and
- Transfers to other programs.
Each of these themes is discussed briefly below.
Reductions in Social Assistance Coverage:
- Many provinces have frozen their basic assistance rates, and several have actually decreased benefits payable to some (usually employable singles and childless couples) or all of their clients; from the January 1993 to the fall of 1994, basic assistance entitlements have decreased for some client categories (more significantly for single employables) in Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta.
- Two indirect methods of reducing benefit levels that have, in recent years, become more common in the Canadian social assistance system are (i) strict enforcement of "alternate-sources-of-support" policies as noted below (welfare expenditures are decreased by a dollar for each dollar a client obtains from sources such as CPP Early Retirement benefits), and (ii) tightening up income exemption policies (fewer exemptions = more unexempted income = lower benefits).
- Some provinces have eliminated categorical coverage for certain types of applicants, e.g., Manitoba has terminated its provincial Student Social Allowances program under the Social Allowances Act, New Brunswick has abolished its Adolescent Parent and Child Services program.
- Special assistance coverage has been curtailed in most provinces - often limited to the minimum amount required to prevent a client's eviction or to cover emergencies only; in some provinces, new clients in the employable category are not eligible for certain types of special assistance for the initial period (three or four months, for example) on welfare.
More Stringent Financial Eligibility Conditions:
- Several provinces have tightened up their earnings exemption policies, which results in fewer applicants qualifying for assistance and existing clients receiving lower benefits. For example, Ontario decided in the summer of 1992 not to apply its earnings exemption policies to clients' earnings for the first three months on assistance; as a result, applicants in the marginal work force can no longer reduce their earnings using this exemption to qualify for social assistance, and existing clients see their benefit entitlement reduced by one dollar for every dollar of earnings they declare for the first three months. New Brunswick has also recently decided to disallow the application of its earnings exemption policy in the case of new applicants awaiting and eligible for Unemployment Insurance. In 1993, Ontario reduced the flat-rate portion of its earnings exemption for most client categories. Quebec has recently repealed a transitional benefit provision which allowed for a 100% exemption of the first month's earnings of a client who had been in receipt of assistance for at least three months.
Improved Case Management and District Initiatives:
- In March 1993, the province of Alberta asked all of its district offices to develop their own initiatives to achieve caseload decreases "by implementing the spirit of the reforms in day-to-day operations"; most such initiatives stressed "a strengthened assessment and referral process." As a result, caseloads decreased in that province by approximately 12,000 to 18,000 cases in 1993/94.
- After repeated cutbacks in the number of social assistance caseworkers in most provinces in the past few years, many jurisdictions are investing significant sums to hire investigators and administrative support staff to review new applications and existing files for potential abuse or fraud.
- Ontario has implemented a number of initiatives in the administrative area, including:
- rigid enforcement of spouse-in-the-house rule
- aggressive pursuit of defaulting parents under the Family Support Plan
- CPP blitz - to encourage clients to apply for CPP benefits for early retirement, disability or survivors
- tripling of the number of fraud investigators from 1991 to 1993
- "enhanced verification process" - applications require much more substantiation
- secondary file review process (two separate workers review each application).
Most provinces are exploring one or more of these cost-containment measures.
- In order to reduce the incidence of "double-dipping" of welfare and Unemployment Insurance, most provinces have tightened up their linkages with Human Resources Development Canada, by exchanging their respective client lists and by signing agreements to allow for the direct recovery of social assistance from UI entitlements, i.e., social assistance paid during the waiting period for UI. Many provinces have also signed agreements with one another concerning the exchange of information on their respective clients, to prevent and detect duplicate social assistance coverage.
Alternate Sources of Financial Support:
- All alternate sources of financial support are being explored aggressively by caseworkers for new and existing clients; in the past year, three provinces (Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick) have announced formally that applicants and recipients alike are expected to apply for early CPP or QPP if they are over 60 years of age (although Alberta subsequently stipulated that application for an early retirement pension under CPP would be compulsory only "if doing so will increase current income"); Ontario is "encouraging" its clients to do the same.
- PEI is now considering GST credits as non-exempt income.
- All provinces are clamping down on delinquent sponsors (under the Immigration Act) and parents who default on child support orders or agreements.
- Single parents: in the past year, Ontario and BC have both amended their single parent employability policy to require sole-support parents to begin their integration into the work force at the latest when their youngest child reaches age 12 (formerly 18 in both provinces). In Alberta, a single parent on social assistance is transferred to the "employable" category (and the job-search/training requirements take effect) when the youngest child in the household reaches the age of six months.
Transfers to Other Programs:
- In Alberta, approximately 11,000 persons on welfare approved for education and training were transferred during 1993/94 to the provincial Students Finance Board (SFB); a total of $41 million was diverted from Alberta Family & Social Services to the SFB during that period.
- Many provinces have from time to time shifted significant segments of their social assistance caseload to another program, usually in the area of training and employment programs.
PROVINCIAL SOCIAL ASSISTANCE UPDATE
- In December 1993, the Newfoundland government released
a proposal by the provincial Economic Recovery Commission (ERC) to reform
income security in the province. The Commission recommends largely replacing
the current Unemployment Insurance (UI) and social assistance systems with
a new Income Supplementation Program (ISP), which would comprise the two following
1. a Basic Income Supplement (BIS) of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child per year (with special benefits and conditions for youths 18 to 24 years of age), regardless of income;
2. a Work Supplement (WS) equal to 20% of individual earnings between $500 and $10,500 (maximum work supplement per person of $2,000 per year) for anyone from 20 to 64 years of age.
In addition, the ERC proposes the introduction of a new support program for education and training, the Educational Supplement (ES). The ES would provide an additional subsidy for participation in post-secondary education and training, including adult academic upgrading at the secondary school level, for up to four years. UI would revert to being an insurance program, more difficult to access with shorter benefit periods than the present system, and social assistance would provide social services and/or top up the BIS for households with special needs. Complementary reforms are also advocated by the ERC in other areas such as job creation, training and education programs and housing. Federal and provincial officials have met on a number of occasions during 1994, and Human Resources Development Canada committed itself to providing up to $400,000 in cost-sharing in further developmental work on the proposal to the end of 1994. The ERC's final report on the income supplementation proposal is due early in 1995
The 1994-95 Budget contained the following provisions relating
to social assistance:
- social assistance rates were frozen (the most recent rate increase took effect in April 1992);
- the Department anticipated savings of $3.5 million in 1994-95 as a result of the activities of 15 of its Special Investigators;
- the significant growth in the social assistance caseload resulted in an increase of approximately $29 million over the 1993-94 budget for social assistance;
- the government allocated $1 million in additional funding to hire 33 additional staff (20 financial assistance officers and 13 administrative support staff) to support the delivery of departmental programs;
- for adult social assistance recipients who need new eyeglasses, these will be provided once every three years (rather than the current two years);
- grants to organizations sponsored by the Department of Social Services in 1993-94 remained frozen at 1993-94 budgeted levels;
- there were no salary increases or inflationary increases in operational budgets, and the government announced that it would seek a reduction of $50 million in its total compensation costs through negotiations with public sector unions.
- Since the summer of 1993, scholarships received by social assistance clients are considered "allowable income", i.e., the provincial earnings exemptions apply to all income from scholarships
- The most recent basic social assistance rate change took effect in April 1992
Prince Edward Island
- The 1994-95 Budget noted that the need to reduce social spending must not compromise the Island's social system (education, health care and social assistance). "The provincial government is proceeding with change in these areas only after a full assessment of community needs, and with the objective of improving, and not detracting from, these essential services".
- In a statement released May 18, 1994, the Honourable Alan Buchanan (Minister of Health and Social Services) announced the following three changes, which are expected to decrease expenditures under the Welfare assistance Program by approximately $2.5 million during 1994-95.
- The maximum monthly shelter allowance for single employable persons was reduced from $480 to $305 in Charlottetown and other urban areas, and from $410 to $260 in rural areas (effective June 1994 for new clients, three months later for existing clients);
- effective July 1994, income from GST credits is considered non-exempt in the calculation of social assistance benefit entitlement
- the policy concerning special assistance for transportation
(for medical, employment-related or day care needs) has been tightened (the
provincial Auditor-General's report for 1994 notes that the province is often
too generous in its application of this policy)
In his statement, the Minister indicated that social assistance costs had grown by 72% from 1989-90 ($27.4M) to 1993-94 ($47M).
- Early in 1994, the management responsibility for the programs and services of the Department of Health and Social Services were transferred to the Health and Community Services Agency, whose role is to provide overall leadership and direction for the delivery of health and community services (including social assistance) through administration, program support and consultative services. The other components of the provincial system are five regional boards (responsible for planning, integrating and coordinating the delivery of health services at the local level), the Council on Health and Community Services Policy (comprising members of the public and service providers, makes recommendations in matters pertaining to health directly to the Minister), and the Department of Health and Social Services strategic planning, administrative support and advice to the Minister).
- Social assistance rates were last increased in July 1992. Maximum shelter allowances for single employables were decreased in June 1994 for new clients and in September 1994 for existing clients
- As part of the provincial budget package in April 1994,
the Nova Scotia Minister of Finance released Government By Design: An action
plan for reform and fiscal recovery in Nova Scotia. The Department of Community
Services, which is responsible for social assistance in the province, will
be affected by the following measures:
- staff reductions (Early Retirement Savings Program) will result in savings totalling $1.9 M. in 1994-95 and approaching $4M. by 1997-98;
- plans have been made to eliminate 100 positions through reorganization and downsizing at certain facilities;
- centralizing administration of approximately 10,000 long term Family Benefits cases will enable the Department to focus on rehabilitation and finding permanent employment to the remaining clients;
- a province-wide eligibility review will ensure that only those in need qualify for assistance;
- reforms (cutbacks) to Pharmacare coverage for Family Benefits clientele;
- the shelter component of FBA for disabled clients living with relatives will be discontinued where the family income exceeds federal low-income guidelines
- effective April 1995, a Provincial-Municipal Service Exchange is scheduled to eliminate the two-tier welfare system. The province will take over social assistance costs at 100%, while municipalities will forfeit a number of cost-shared programs and contribute to correction services and rural roads. A Minister's Committee on Interim Social Policy will study the existing system and make recommendations concerning eligibility standards, rates of assistance, unified special needs policy, standards for community residential care, and maintenance assistance for people in homes for special case;
(NOTE: As at March 1995, plans to unify social assistance in the province had been placed on hold, except for a pilot project in Cape Breton.)
- the government is "determined that those who abuse the system will be removed".
- Six Eligibility Review workers were hired in 1994 to monitor FBA cases across the province; they will join two workers hired in the fall of 1993 to investigate Metro Halifax's more complex FBA cases.
- The Family Benefits Review Board was disbanded in September 1993
- In March 1993, the medical assessment procedure to determine disability for FBA purposes was amended to include the option of making a recommendation for a referral for a second medical opinion
- Since January 1994, the Director of Family Benefits may continue to pay FBA on behalf of a child who is removed from a client's home by the Child Welfare agency under specific conditions (maximum two years).
- The Diabetic Assistance Program was terminated in September 1993 (except for grandfathered cases). In practice, persons in need who were diabetics were assisted under the Family Benefits program; in the calculation of the budget deficit (needs test), an amount imputed and indexed by regulation as the diabetes-related health care costs was included as an ongoing need for all diabetic applicants and clients. Since September 1993, diabetic persons in need must apply for regular Family Benefits and request special assistance for health care costs.
- The most recent rate change in the provincial Family Benefits Program was effective January 1, 1994; Halifax Municipal assistance rates were last increased in March 1992
Some salient points from the 1993-94 Annual Report of the
Department of Income Assistance (now Human Resources Development):
- a complete review of existing income support and employment -related policies for unemployed New Brunswickers was officially launched with the release of a discussion paper entitled Creating New Options in December 1993;
NOTE: The release of this discussion paper was followed by
an extensive public consultation process during which the government heard
from 1200 individuals and groups in various forums (twelve public sessions
in eleven different locations across the province, private meetings with groups
and individuals, a toll-free comment line and a reader response form appended
to the discussion paper). In June 1994, the provincial government released
its Public Consultation Report, a summary of the issues and concerns raised
by intervenors in this process; in late fall of that year, Options to Actions
was released, outlining specific social assistance policy changes the province
will be implementing during the coming year. In December 1994, a new statute
(the Family Income Security Act) replacing existing social assistance legislation
(the Social Welfare Act) received royal assent; regulations under the new
statute will be established during 1995-96.
- N.B. Works, a demonstration project operating from 1992 to 1998, tests a new model of intensive counselling and monitoring, literacy and skill training, work experience and services to help improve the self-sufficiency potential of chronic (long-term) clients (family heads in receipt of assistance for at least six months with low educational attainment and little or no labour force attachment) who are considered the most likely to succeed. N.B. Works provides a continuum of services lasting up to 49 months. Some 3,000 family heads will take part in N.B. Works at a total cost of approximately $177 million (over the six years of the project);
- the New Brunswick Self-Sufficiency Project (SSP), announced in May 1992, is a demonstration project whose objective is to determine whether a time-limited earnings supplement can help long-term recipients of social assistance who are single parents to return to full-time work. The supplement, which is calculated as half of the difference between the participant's earnings and a New Brunswick benchmark of $30,000 per year, will last up to three years per participant; the project will collect data on approximately 3,000 New Brunswick social assistance households, half of which will be in a control group. A total of $50 million has been allocated from HRDC's Innovations program, with $15 million for New Brunswick and the remaining $35 million for British Columbia, the only other Canadian province involved in the project.
- During the summer of 1994, New Brunswick implemented the Income Supplement Benefit Program, a shelter subsidy program for families with dependent children which are receiving assistance under the Long Term Established Needs (LTEN) Program and the Upgrading, Placement and Training (UT&P.) Program. To qualify for this year-round benefit ($90/mo. for November to April, $60/mo. for May to October), the client household must be residing in private market rental housing and paying more than 30% of its basic unit rate toward rental costs. Families with children in receipt of the Income Supplement Benefit are not eligible for the home heating supplement
- Since the summer of 1993, the earnings exemption does not apply to income from part-time and full-time work in the initial determination of eligibility for social assistance for an applicant who is awaiting and eligible for UI benefits; that is, the applicant's income from employment cannot be decreased by means of this exemption.
- Since the summer of 1993, the basic assistance entitlement for a blind or disabled adult client living in the parental home is reduced by 5% to 25% where annual gross income of the parent(s) is $30,000 to $40,000 or more
- In April 1993, the Department of Income Assistance (since renamed the Department of Human Resources Development) entered into an agreement with Employment and Immigration Canada (now Human Resources Development Canada) to recover any social assistance paid during the UI waiting period directly from HRDC.
- Since April 1994, social assistance applicants and recipients 60 to 64 years of age are required, as a condition of eligibility, to apply for CPP Early Retirement Benefits
- Six new investigators were hired in 1994, and over three dozen summer students were involved in case reviews during the same year.
- Mandatory cheque pick-up was implemented for clients of the Interim Assistance program and the Upgrading, Training and Placement program.
- Benefit levels for UT&P and LTEN client households were increased by approximately 2% in September 1994, but only where the household's shelter cost is less than 30% of its basic entitlement, i.e., families eligible for the Income Supplement Benefit Program had their social assistance rates frozen at September 1993 levels. Rates for clients of the Interim Assistance program were also frozen at September 1993 levels
- Since 1994, persons 60 to 64 years of age are required, as a condition of eligibility for social assistance, to apply for any Early Retirement Benefits (from the QuÃ©bec Pension Plan or the Canada Pension Plan) to which they may be entitled.
- In March 1994, the allowance for breastfeeding mothers
was increased from $20 to $50 per month and a new allowance for infant formula
Since October 1993, a person residing in a shelter for victims of violence who applies for social assistance is considered in the Unavailable category , i.e., higher benefit levels than a fully employable person, no job search expectation.
- Since October 1993, coverage for dental and pharmaceutical services is extended for up to six months in the case of a single-parent family head who ceases to be eligible for a program of last resort because of that parent's integration into the labour force; in August 1994, the same coverage became available for up to 12 months to clients participating in a self-employment support initiative established by the Ministry of Income Security
- Since October 1993, a single-parent household which incurs moving costs to allow the adult to pursue post-secondary studies is eligible for reimbursement of such expenses up to $500 (formerly $200) ".
- In October 1993, asset exemption limits for all client households of the Financial Support Program and the Work and Employment Incentives Program were increased by $147 for each dependent child (and each dependant over age 18 still attending secondary school) in the household.
- In October 1993, the provincial government abolished its policy of allowing a 100% exemption of a client's income from the first month of work (formerly applicable to clients who had been on assistance for at least three months).
- The 1993-94 Budget froze benefit levels for 1994 for the following programs:
- the Work and Employment Incentives Program (social assistance for employables)
- the Parental Wage Assistance Program (except for "harmonization" adjustments)
- allowances under the Quebec Family Assistance Allowances Act (i.e., Family Allowance, the Allowance for Handicapped Children and the Allowance for Young Children).
- Benefit levels for clients of the Financial Support Program (social assistance for clients who are unemployable because of a disability) were indexed in March 1994
- Benefit levels for most client households in the Work and Employment Incentives Program were decreased in October 1993;
- The Parental Wage Assistance program was amended in 1994 to maintain its harmonization with the Quebec tax system.
- In the summer of 1994, Work and Employment Incentives Program client households with at least two dependent children were granted a $13 monthly increase in earnings exemptions.
- In December 1994, the new (P.Q.) Minister of Income Security (Jeanne Blackburn) announced the establishment of the ConfÃ©rence permanente sur la sÃ©curitÃ© du revenu (income security advisory council), comprising representatives from over a dozen community organizations and advocacy groups. The Deputy Minister of Income Security will act as Chair for the council, which will also include two Assistant Deputy Ministers, a regional director and a senior member of the Minister's Office. The mandate of the council is to provide a forum for input from organizations that represent the needs and interests of social assistance consumers into the policy process; the council will review and critique the Ministry's social assistance policies and programs on an ongoing basis and make recommendations regarding possible improvements to the quality of services.
- In April 1993, Ontario's Expenditure Control Plan was released by the provincial Minister of Finance. Specific measures from this plan which were implemented during 1993-94 to contain or reduce social assistance costs include (among others):
- in-depth reviews of case files to ensure eligibility and accurate benefit levels; review of cases where there has been a sponsorship breakdown; limit on retroactive payments;
- elimination or reduction of some types of special assistance (including limiting home repairs to emergency situations, discontinuing payment of life insurance premiums and limiting moving expenses to essential moves);
- reduction or termination of benefits for young clients where parents have a legal obligation to support them; "the Ministry will work with parents whose children are over 12 to help those parents prepare to enter the workforce";
- reduction of the flat-rate portion of the earnings exemption for most social assistance clients;
- consideration of "other" (previously exempted) financial resources in calculating benefit entitlement, including interest earned on liquid assets, increase in home equity and income from boarders;
- moving more social assistance households into new non-profit housing units; introduction of regionally-variable shelter ceilings;
- mandatory direct depositing of cheques into recipients' banking institutions; monthly reporting of income by Family Benefits clients (formerly annually); reduction in the number of forms to administer the program;
- operational streamlining (restructuring & delayering of MCSS corporate and field operations) to save 10% of Ministry administration costs over three years (excluding directly-operated facilities).
- In July 1993, the Minister of Community and Social Services
released Turning Point: New Support Programs for People with Low Incomes,
to inform the Ontario population about welfare reforms which MCSS intended
to implement by the beginning of the 1995-96 fiscal year. Turning Point comprises
the following three components:
i) Ontario Child Income Program: monthly cheque payable to all low-income families, based on family income and number of children;
ii) Ontario Adult Benefit: needs-tested benefits payable to "adults in transition" to cover basic needs (food, clothing, shelter and personal requirements);
iii) JOB LINK: connects people to education, training and job placement programs; available only to Ontario Adult Benefit clients, replaces OAB cheque with an Employment and Training Allowance (which takes into account both basic needs and costs related to job preparation and job search activities.
As at March 1995, the Ontario government has not moved ahead with "i" and "ii" because of fiscal restraint in the province; JOBLINK has been approved for cost-matching under the federal Strategic Initiatives Program (described in an attachment to this summary).
- In July 1994, Ontario eliminated its two-tier shelter structure (formerly, client households which had very low shelter costs received a flat-rate "basic" shelter allowance based on family size, while those living in fair-market housing received the basic allowance plus a "variable" shelter allowance to cover actual costs up to a provincial maximum); since that time, shelter allowances cover only the actual cost of shelter up to the same provincial maximum (except for homeless clients, who continue to receive the flat-rate amount, which is now called the "fixed shelter amount")
- Since June 1994, children, grandchildren and foster children of recipients who are not in school or an approved training program are expected to pay board and lodging if living in the recipient's home (formerly, school attendance or participation in a training program were not a factor in determining whether board and lodging charges would apply to these dependent children)
- Ontario's social assistance policy concerning immigrants was amended in December 1993 and again in June 1994; under the revised policy, the minimum amount considered a sponsor's obligation to a recipient of GWA or FBA (for whom that sponsor is responsible) is $100 per month; the maximum amount of social assistance available to recipients living with their sponsor is the basic allowance only
- Since September 1994, amounts received by a client under the Helpline Reconciliation Model Agreement, the Multi-Provincial/Territorial Assistance Program Agreement and the Grandview Agreement are not considered as income or assets for FBA and GWA purposes
- Since August 1993, an inheritance of $65,000 (or greater, if approved by the Director) which is placed in trust for a disabled or permanently unemployable applicant or recipient of social assistance is excluded from the determination of assets; the income from the trust fund is also exempt, provided it is used for specific disability-related expenses, education or training which is not otherwise reimbursable
- Starting in August 1993, sole-support parents under 18 years of age residing with their parents who are not receiving GWA or FBA are covered under a new category of eligibility and a special allowance structure
- Starting in August 1993, new applicants who are medically-unemployable 16- and 17-year-olds living with their parents are no longer entitled to assistance except as dependants
- Since July 1993, the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy is considered a liquid asset, subject to asset exemption policies (the cash surrender value of life insurance was formerly totally exempt)
- In June 1994, the flat-rate utility allowance ("minimum deemed utility costs") payable to clients with very low utility costs was reduced by $5 per month
- In January 1994, the GAINS-D "cap" for a household which includes two disabled adults was increased to $1,560 per month (this cap ensures that the GAINS-D couples rate does not exceed the current maximum OAS/GIS couples entitlement)
- Maximum rates of assistance for clients of FBA (including GAINS-D) and GWA were last increased in April 1993. In June 1994, Ontario decreased the maximum benefit level applicable to two-adult client households (including those with children) by $27 monthly; this decrease applies to both GWA and FBA, but not to GAINS-D couples
- Maximum monthly earnings exemption levels were reduced for most FBA and GWA client households in the summer of 1993.
- Since January 1994, income from earnings or training allowances is no longer averaged over the period covered by that income
- The Minister of Community and Social Services has established a committee to advise him on issues related to social assistance. According to information from the Ministry, the Social Assistance Advisory Committee comprises ten part-time members, including a minimum of six past or present consumers of social assistance. All committee members were selected by the Minister's Office from submissions received from the (provincial) Public Appointments Secretariat, consumers and advocacy groups. According to the Advisory Committee's terms of reference, the appointment of members and support staff was to be completed and the Committee fully operational by the end of October 1994.
- Provincial regulation of Municipal Assistance was introduced in April 1993; municipalities and cities still administer assistance in accordance with their local by-laws, which must be in accordance with benefit levels and other standards established under the provincial Municipal Assistance Regulation to respect provincial-municipal cost-sharing conditions. Because we have chosen to include Winnipeg Municipal Assistance provisions in Social Assistance and Related Programs, virtually every section of this report has been amended to reflect the new rules in effect in Winnipeg (covering over 90% of the municipal assistance cases in the province). Please refer to individual sections for revised policies.
- In April 1993, Social Allowances Health Services (SAHS)
benefit provisions were tightened up (fewer eligible drugs and services, elimination
of major restorative dental services, dollar limits placed on basic restorative
dental coverage, three-month waiting period introduced for non-emergency dental
and optical care). In June 1994, the range of drugs covered under SAHS was
[Editor's Note: many other provinces have also cut back on non-insured health services coverage for social assistance client households and low-income earners alike; only a few such changes are noted in this update summary (as examples of provincial budget-paring), because Social assistance and Related Programs focuses on financial assistance rather than health or social services.]
- In May 1993, Social Allowances supplementary benefit rateswere reduced to reflect changes to the Manitoba Cost of Living and Property Tax Credit programs.
- In July 1993, the categorical eligibility of students was eliminated from the Social Allowances Act (social allowances are no longer available to a person in need solely on the basis of being a student). Disabled and sole-support parent clients will continue to receive assistance through the Social Allowances Program for the attainment of educational goals. Provincial guidelines were developed to provide municipalities with the flexibility to approve employment-related education for municipal assistance clients where it is deemed that the educational plan will help reduce the extent or duration of the client's reliance on assistance.
- In November 1993, the monthly rate of recovery for overpayments from active Social allowances cases was changed from a formula (5% of the household budget up to the amount of the personal allowance) to a flat amount based on family size ($40 for one person, $60 for two persons and $80 for three or more persons) -
- In January 1994, the shelter guidelines (rent, fuel and utilities) for single employable cases were reduced, as were the shelter allowances for single employables in a rooming house or sharing accommodation
- In May 1994, special needs policies under the Social Allowances Program were tightened up
- In April 1993, the monthly "cap" on utilities was abolished, i.e., utility allowances now cover the actual cost of clients' utilities (utility allowances were formerly based on regional scales)
- In July 1993, Saskatchewan increased the basic allowance (food, clothing, household and personal needs) by $5 per month for the third person in the household and each additional dependant. Basic allowances have otherwise not changed since August 1992
- Family Income Plan benefits were increased by $5 per month for each eligible child in July 1993
- The province assumed financial responsibility for most off-reserve Indians effective July 1, 1993 (formerly, the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs was financially responsible for the first twelve months of off-reserve residence by a person in need with Indian status)
- In the spring of 1993, Saskatchewan Social Services officials proposed to the federal government that the two levels of government consolidate three existing programs
the Family Income Plan, the Saskatchewan Child Tax Reduction and social assistance benefits for children under the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan - into a new program which would be called the Integrated Child Benefit. The initiative would effectively remove children from social assistance caseloads, thus eliminating a significative disincentive to work for welfare clients, i.e., by guaranteeing continued support for children whose parent(s) leave welfare for a low-paying job (the integrated benefit would be paid to all low-income Saskatchewan families, not only those in receipt of social assistance). Federal and provincial officials met on a number of occasions in 1993 and 1994 to discuss various aspects of the proposal; there have not been any meetings between officials of the Saskatchewan and federal governments on the issue of an Integrated Child Benefit since the 1995 federal Budget.
- During 1993-94, the Saskatchewan Seniors' Secretariat was eliminated, except for the Saskatchewan Income Plan (SIP) - a top-up program for beneficiaries of OAS/GIS - which was transferred back to the Department of Social Services; the SIP summary has been amended to reflect changes in administering authority and some program details.
- In the spring of 1993, the Minister of Family and Social
Services announced further major structural reforms to Alberta's welfare program.
Welfare benefits were restructured and reduced in the summer and fall of 1993
"to re-emphasize welfare as a program of last resort and as part of the
Alberta government's deficit reduction plan", according to a 1994 Alberta
news release. In addition, Family and Social Services' 52 district offices
were asked in March 1993 to develop their own initiatives to achieve caseload
decreases by implementing the spirit of the reforms in day-to-day operations
an case management. Initiatives varied among the district offices, but most
(i) a strengthened assessment and referral process,
(ii) requiring clients to attend information sessions before processing their applications for assistance,
(iii) requiring clients to follow through with mutually agreed-upon case plans,
(iv) establishing waiting periods for non-emergency clients, and
(v) strengthened cooperation with staff and services of Human Resources Development Canada and Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development.
Alberta estimated that these initiatives accounted for as many as 18,000 of the 31,000 cases that left social assistance during 1993-94. During the same fiscal year, it was also estimated that some 11,000 clients left social assistance because of the transfer of responsibility (and part of the social assistance budget) for educational upgrading to the provincial Students Finance Board).
NOTE: recent Alberta caseload data indicate that there are just over 52,000 households on social assistance in March 1995, compared with some 94,000 households in March 1993
- Maximum shelter benefits were reduced by $50 monthly for most client categories in October 1993; at the same time, a number of other allowances were eliminated or reduced, e.g., standard (basic) allowances (reduced by $26/month per adult), moving costs inside the province, telephone connections and deposits, prescription drug benefits, extra laundry costs for children in diapers, etc.
- The Supports for Independence policy manual was revised in the fall of 1993 to reflect significant changes to the special needs policy (some of which are noted in the preceding paragraph); special assistance is now classified as either "continuous" or "non-continuous", with approval for the latter being conditional upon the client having exhausted all cash, liquid assets and available income (i.e., no exemptions are allowed)
- In October 1993, the monthly earnings exemption policy was changed from a graduated scheme (100% exemption on the first $115 per month, 50% on the next $85, 24% on the next $100, and 10% on any remaining amount) to a single flat rate plus percentage (the new exemption is 100% of the first $115 per month plus 25% of any amount over $115)
- During 1993, the employability policy respecting single parents was amended: the client must (as a condition of eligibility) actively seek work or enter training to prepare for independence when the youngest dependent child in the household reaches the age of six months (formerly two years). Other changes occurring the same year include immediate cancellation of eligibility where an employable client refuses or abandons a job without valid reason (formerly 30-day notice of cancellation) ; damage deposits no longer paid except in cases of spousal or child abuse); lower asset exemption levels for some categories of clients ; lower exemptions on equity in vehicles clarification and stricter enforcement of the policy concerning common-law relationships (revised definition of "family unit"); coverage for prescription drugs, dental and optical benefits was decreased; a client (and any dependants) boarding with adult relatives (by blood, adoption or marriage) is no longer entitled to a shelter allowance
- During 1993-94, according to the Alberta Family and Social
Services Annual Report, over 11,000 cases were closed (resulting in a savings
of some $6.2 million) as a result of three special initiatives:
1. recovery of departmental mail that was left unclaimed at residences (mainly multi-client address and rental units);
2. referral of suspicious circumstances for investigation; and
3. targeted review of cases for home visits.
Over the same period, 500 cases were closed (at an annual savings of $550,000) following case reviews by Eligibility and Benefit Verification staff.
- Since February 1994, each adult client of the Assured Supports category (permanently unemployable by reason of disability) receives a monthly personal needs supplement of $20. At the same time, the provincial government created the Community Living Start-Up Allowance - a one-time allowance of up to $1000 which may be paid to cover the cost of establishing a residence for a client who has been residing in an institution as a result of a disability or mental illness.
On July 1 1994, the Alberta Seniors Benefit (ASB) replaced
the following programs:
- the Alberta Assured Income Plan,
- the Senior Citizens' Renter Assistance Program,
- the Property Tax Reduction Program, and
- full exemption from Alberta Health Care Insurance (AHCI) premiums.
ASB is an income-tested program which offers a cash benefit and exemption from health care premiums to low-income Alberta seniors (65+). The amount of the benefit is based on marital status, income, type of accommodation and eligibility for federal OAS/GIS benefits. The maximum annual benefit ranges from $1,800 for a single senior homeowner to $3,500 for a two-senior couple owning or renting a mobile home. ASB income is 100% exempted for social assistance purposes
- Since July 1994, Supports for Independence (social assistance) is available to 16 and 17 year-olds as a last resort only, after an investigation by Child Welfare authorities. Where independent living is deemed to be the best case disposition, benefits are based on a separate (lower) schedule of rates than those which apply to the general caseload
- A July 1994 policy manual revision states that any client reaching the age of 60 years shall be required to apply for an early retirement pension from the Canada Pension Plan, "but only if doing so will increase current income"
- In August 1994, the annual school expenses allowance for dependants who are students was increased from a flat allowance of $25 to $50 for elementary students and $100 for students of junior and senior high school
- According to a news release from BC Social Services dated February 1995, the province saved more than $46 million during 1994-95 because of "new measures to combat welfare fraud and abuse".
- In June 1994, BC and the federal government signed an agreement to eliminate the possibility of individuals collecting both Unemployment Insurance benefits and provincial income assistance for the same period. The duplicate payments have cost BC $200 million over the past five years. (Editor's note: although persons awaiting UI benefits were formerly required to sign an Assignment of UI Benefit agreement as a condition of eligibility for income assistance, duplicate payments often went unrecovered [because the onus was on the client to repay the Ministry after he/she left income assistance]; since June 1994, the recovery is effected directly from the federal government.) BC Social Services estimated that this elimination of duplicate payments would save over $35 million by the end of the 1994-95 fiscal year;
- In April 1994, all security deposits paid by the Ministry became an assignable benefit, i.e., when the Ministry pays a client's security deposit, the landlord must return the money directly to the Ministry (anticipated savings for 1994-95: just under $4 million);
- Almost $3 million was saved late in February 1994 when employable singles and childless couples in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island were required to pick up their cheques in person (710 cases were closed where cheques were not picked up);
- During 1994-95, the province signed agreements with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to share information about income assistance recipients to prevent double-dipping; savings to BC for the fiscal year were expected to amount to almost $3.5 million;
- Some 280 case files were closed and another 22 had their benefit entitlement reduced in 1994 when, as part of cheque pick-up pilot projects in the most densely-populated areas of the province, employable singles and childless couples were required to complete job search report cards (listing days worked, job search efforts, training and the need for additional help in seeking employment); total savings for 1994-95 were estimated at $830,000);
- During 1994-95, the BC government signed agreements with their counterparts in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (excluding Winnipeg and Brandon) to share information concerning income assistance recipients in order to prevent interprovincial "double-dipping". Savings to BC from the three agreements were estimated at $3.38 million for 1994-95;
- Since April 1994, if a client reports lost cash for a second time, the Ministry takes over the administration of the client's income assistance payments; suppliers (usually landlords) are paid directly by the Ministry and the client receives vouchers or limited cash. Administration of funds in this manner continues until the client can demonstrate his or her ability to manage funds responsibly. In cases of lost cash or lost endorsed cheques, the Ministry recovers the money through deductions from subsequent income assistance cheques (no estimate of savings is provided for this measure);
- Since April 1994, single parents are considered employable when their youngest child reaches 12 years of age (this does not apply to single parents who must stay at home to care for a disabled child)
- In March 1993, BC Social Services released a report entitled The Challenge of Change - Maintaining British Columbia's Social Safety Nets. (Two other discussion papers also released at the same time were entitled Making Changes: A Place to Start and Liberating Our Children: Liberating Our Nations. They deal with issues and directions for change with respect to children's services and reforms to aboriginal children's services.) A news release which accompanies The Challenge of Change informs us that the Minister of Social Services is "demanding a national review of Canada's 30-year-old system of federal-provincial cost-shared safety nets to help ensure the provinces, and all Canadians, get a fair deal from Ottawa". These three papers (as well as another entitled Making Changes: Next Steps, which was released in July 1993) were distributed to solicit input from British Columbians concerning needed reforms to income assistance, child and family services, child care and aboriginal child welfare. Copies of these reports can be obtained from the Ministry by telephoning (604) 387-6485.
- The Minister's Advisory Council on Income Assistance was
created by an amendment to the Guaranteed Available Income for Need Act in
June 1992. The 15-member Advisory Council was appointed in March 1993 (from
a list of some 80 nominees provided by key community organizations and individuals)
to provide the Minister of Social Services with advice and recommendations
on income assistance reforms in the 1990s. The Advisory Council released its
first report, entitled The First Step, in February 1994. It recommended:
- an immediate increase of $75 per month of all GAIN (social assistance) rates,
- an amalgamation of support and shelter allowances into a "global" budget to allow client households which choose lower-cost accommodation to reallocate the money not spent on shelter to other family needs (the existing system pays actual shelter only up to a monthly maximum),
- the establishment of a public consultation process to develop a formula to determine income assistance rates,
- an increase in the monthly exemption with respect to spousal and child maintenance payments received by a client,
- an exemption of arrears in family maintenance payments paid in a lump sum, up to the appropriate asset exemption level, and
- payment of income assistance benefits on the third last business day of each month (to eliminate variations of up to 34 days in the interval between payments under the existing system).
According to BC Social Services officials, "the Advisory Council on Income assistance has provided the Minister with an opportunity to receive specialized advice about the social safety net".
- Guide dog allowances, school start-up allowances and Christmas allowances were increased in 1993
- Support allowance levels under the Temporary Assistance and Income Assurance programs were increased in February 1993 and again in March 1994; maximum shelter allowances were last increased in February 1992
- There were no significant program changes in Yukon in 1993 or 1994, except for an increase in the maximum food allowance in the Old Crow region of the Territory in April 1993. During those two years, however, Yukon officials have been involved in a thorough review of social assistance, and the program will be changed in 1995. The next edition of Social Assistance and Related Programs will contain more information on this reform.
- Maximum food allowances were increased in October 1993.
- A new special need allowance in the amount of $200 was instituted to allow an expectant mother to purchase a baby layette prior to the actual birth of her child
- Benefit levels for Old Age Security (OAS/GIS/SPA), Canada
Pension Plan and war veterans' and civilian war allowances have been updated
to 1994; a new table provides some basic information on the federal Child
Social Policy Branch
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