Canadian Social Research Links

Welfare Time Limits
in British Columbia and elsewhere

Sites de recherche sociale au Canada

Limites de durée de l'admissibilité à l'aide sociale
en Colombie-Britannique et ailleurs

Updated May 19, 2016
Page révisée le 19 mai

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See also:
Canadian Social Research Links BC Government Links page
Canadian Social Research Links Non-Governmental Sites in British Columbia (A-C) page
Canadian Social Research Links Non-Governmental Sites in British Columbia (C-W) page

The American experience
with welfare time limits:

This link takes you further down on the page you're now reading.

- this paper contains an excellent overview of the evolution of the welfare time limit rule from bad idea to non-issue in BC!

The Rise and Fall of Welfare Time Limits in BC (PDF - 294K, 37 pages)
June 2008
By Bruce Wallace and Tim Richards
The Rise and Fall of Welfare Time Limits in BC documents the fascinating story behind the first attempt in Canadian history by a government to introduce welfare time limits. Under this policy, recipients who had been on assistance two years would be cut off of benefits for the ensuing three years. This report documents the dynamics of the opposition to time-limited welfare which led the government to capitulate on this element of its welfare reforms. In addition to the public record, it draws extensively on over 1,000 pages of internal government materials obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

" is profoundly important that the welfare time limits policy failed. It is important for the individuals who faced homelessness and hunger as a consequence of welfare time limits, important as an affirmation of basic societal values, and important to demonstrate to other provincial governments that time-limited welfare is not politically viable. We hope that the results of this “social experiment” in BC will help ensure that other provinces do not attempt to adopt similarly destructive policies."

Vancouver Island Public Interest Group

Social Assistance in the New Economy (SANE)

Welfare Time Limits: Symbolism and Practice (Word file - 114K, 26 pages)
By Dean Herd, Ernie Lightman and Andrew Mitchell
This paper examines time limits on the receipt of welfare, based on experiences in the United States and, since 2002, in British Columbia, the only province to have introduced time limits in Canada. In effect, time limits start a 'clock' running and when the time has expired, welfare recipients become subject to penalties, up to lifetime exclusion from welfare.
The paper begins by describing the introduction of time limits in the US and Canada, detailing the often complex policies themselves. It then reviews the research evidence, drawing primarily on the US experience which has been more fully evaluated. Overall, the research shows that time limits are both philosophically flawed and a blunt and ineffective policy tool. Proponents of time limits advocate their use as part of a package of measures designed to change the behaviour of individuals and to reduce welfare "dependency". Instead, the research shows that those who reach time limits face multiple barriers to employment.

June 13, 2012 : UPDATE

The first pillar of Premier Christy Clark’s Families First Agenda was announced by the BC Government on June 11, 2012.
Almost 30 welfare rule adjustments are to be enacted later this year; the full list of rule changes can be found here : .

Among the list of 2012 welfare rule changes:
"Remove time limits (previously 24 months in a five-year period), and replace with intensified work-search requirements to help ensure that those on income assistance are using all available resources to find work."

NOTE : The removal of welfare time limits didn't just happen in June 2012 - they're simply doing away with the rule in a formal sense by deleting it from the regulation. The time limit rule was created in 2002, early in the previous Premier's mandate.

See David Schreck's take on the welfare time limit issue:

Government Backs Down over Heartless Policy but won't release numbers
Commentary by David Schreck

January 6, 2004
"(...) What they don't say is that at the last minute government added a new 25th reason for exempting people from the arbitrary time limit. The new exemption is "People who have an employment plan, are complying with their plan, are actively looking for work, but have not been successful in finding employment." Everyone on assistance has completed an employment plan because it is a requirement in the initial application. It has always been a requirement that employable people look for work. In other words, rule 25 exempts everyone and the two year rule was a cruel exercise that caused needless anxiety for people who are already down on their luck."


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In April 2002, British Columbia became the first Canadian jurisdiction to impose a time limit on eligibility for welfare in the province.

Click on the links in the BC Government box below to see the policy evolved, then scroll down to see links to a collection of related info arranged in reverse chronological order, with the most recent material at the top.

BC welfare time limits are inspired by American welfare reforms of the mid-nineties - see Welfare Time Limits - The American Experience for links to related sites in the U.S.
(this link takes you further down on this page)

The BC Government Policy

From the Ministry of Social Development:

Here's where it all started:
Time Limits : BC Employment and Assistance
May 2002 - (seven exempt categories)

Time Limits Update [dead link]
Updated: September 2008
- includes the definitive list of all 25 exemptions to the time limit policy
Note that the 25th group exemption ("People who have a time count of 24 months, have an employment plan, are complying with their plan and are actively looking for work, but have not been successful in finding employment") covers pretty much anyone who doesn't have a disability and who is complying with his/her employment plan...

Time Limit Policy to Protect People in Need [dead link]
News Release
February 6, 2004
"VICTORIA – The province has released a report projecting the number of clients that will be affected as the government follows through on its commitment to limit income assistance for employable clients to two years out of every five. The report, released by Minister of Human Resources Stan Hagen, honours a commitment made by the previous minister. The report shows that a total of 339 employable clients who have been receiving assistance for more than two years may become ineligible over the coming year, or receive a rate reduction, as a result of non-compliance with their employment plan. (...) A total of 339 clients will potentially be affected this year, far lower than the tens of thousands that the opposition claimed. At the same time, we are ensuring that those who are unable to work, or are doing everything in their power to find work, will be protected.”

Fact Sheet: Time Limits Update [dead link]
(*See David Schreck's related commentary immediately below this box)
February 6, 2004
"(...) As part of the province’s emphasis on employment and personal responsibility, time limits were introduced in April 2002 in order to motivate employable income assistance clients to find jobs as quickly as possible. Employable clients who do not meet any of the 25 exemption criteria are limited to a cumulative 24 months (two years) of assistance out of every 60 months (five years). The 25 exemption criteria are designed to ensure that no one who is unable to work or who is actively looking for work will lose assistance."
- incl. monthly stats for April, May and June of 2004 and a projection for all of 2004-2005 showing the estimated number of clients who will have received income assistance for 24 months and do not comply with employment plans (i.e., failure to search for employment, leaving employment without just cause, dismissal with just cause and failure to accept employment.)

*Government Backs Down over Heartless Policy but won't release numbers
Commentary by David Schreck of Strategic

January 6, 2004
"(...) What they don't say is that at the last minute government added a new 25th reason for exempting people from the arbitrary time limit. The new exemption is "People who have an employment plan, are complying with their plan, are actively looking for work, but have not been successful in finding employment." Everyone on assistance has completed an employment plan because it is a requirement in the initial application. It has always been a requirement that employable people look for work. In other words, rule 25 exempts everyone and the two year rule was a cruel exercise that caused needless anxiety for people who are already down on their luck."

The rest of this page is in reverse chronological order, with the most recent addition at the top

Why Welfare Time Limits Never Flew
BC Libs aimed to cut welfare rolls 30 per cent

By Bruce Wallace and Tim Richards
July 31, 2008

When the government of British Columbia stated in fall of 2001 that it intended to force people off welfare after a certain amount of time, it was announcing changes that were unprecedented in Canada. Changes that never happened. Before the time limits could take effect in B.C., in early 2004, the provincial government announced regulatory amendments that effectively ended the experiment. So who was responsible for the reversal? Whose opposing voice was heard loudest? How did a policy launched with such government fanfare end up scuttled so quickly? Our search for answers took us through more than 1000 pages of internal government documents obtained through a freedom of information (FOI) request as well as numerous public documents and media reports, and resulted in a report titled The Rise and Fall of Welfare Time Limits in British Columbia, published last month (see the link below). The story that emerges offers insight into the politics of policy-making, and some key players in the drama may surprise.


Also from the Tyee:

* A Welfare 'Savings' Boomerang - May 1, 2008
Campbell's cuts ended up costing BC taxpayers billions, studies suggest.

* 'Welfare to Work' Didn't Work - November 12, 2007
BC Libs sat on own report showing no real gains.

* Facebook Used by Officials to Spy on Welfare Clients - January 22, 2008
BC officers cruise social sites for fraud evidence.

* How BC Trimmed 107,000 People from Welfare Rolls - August 18, 2005
Some got jobs. Red tape, death likely knocked out far more.

* Welfare's New Era in BC - July 2004
The Tyee's special four-part series on welfare reforms under Gordon Campbell


From PovNet :

Letter to Campbell and Martin on Welfare Time Limits
(Posted February 12, 2004)
"More than 125 organizations are calling on B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell to totally rescind the two-year time limits on welfare benefits. The organizations are also asking Prime Minister Paul Martin to attach conditions to the transfer of federal dollars to the provinces in order to bar British Columbia or any other province from making receipt of social assistance subject to a time limit in future."
Cover letter (PDF format)
Letter to Campbell and Martin - incl. the list of endorsers (PDF format)
Press release - February 12, 2004 (PDF format)

Related Links:

The Right to Social Assistance - British Columbia's Two Year Time Limit
14 Questions and Answers
(PDF file - 181K, 14 pages)
October 2003
"British Columbia is the only province in Canada to place a time limit on welfare eligibility. From diverse perspectives, many people are concerned about the harmful results of this harsh and unprecedented new rule. This report is a response to numerous requests that the Poverty and Human Rights Project has received from concerned groups and individuals for an analysis of the human rights implications of the 24 month cut off rule. (...) ...there are central touchstones in constitutional and international human rights law that support the view that the 24 month cut off rule is not consistent with people's rights to security and equality as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or with the values that underlie the Charter.
The goal of this report - which is written in a question and answer format - is to describe these touchstones. Through this report the Poverty and Human Rights Project hopes to raise public awareness about the importance of strong social and economic rights for all Canadians, and the threat to human rights commitments that is posed by British Columbia's two year time limit.



From the The Fraser Institute:

BC’s U-Turn on Welfare Reform Spells Disaster
Editorial (Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2004)
By Jason Clemens, Sylvia LeRoy and Niels Veldhuis

"In a disastrous U-turn on welfare reform, the BC Government de-legitimized what was one of Canada’s most important social welfare reforms to date; a limit that capped the amount of time employable adults could collect welfare to 2 out of every 5 years. Late on Friday afternoon, February 6th, the BC Liberals announced a series of new exemptions to the time limits, including one that exempts anyone abiding by their work plan. The policy change effectively nullifies the time limit rule and speaks more to the government’s immediate political concerns than any genuine concern for those still struggling to make the transition from a life of welfare dependence to one of self-sufficiency."

Also from the Fraser Institute:

A Constitutional Defence of the Benefit Time Limit on Eligibility for
Income Assistance Under the British Columbia Employment and Assistance Act
[dead link]
By Chris Schafer
Abstract—Pressing back against the juggernaut of Canadian constitutional academic scholarship wedded to the “progressive” vision of an ever-expanding state, this paper presents a constitutional defence of the benefit time limit on eligibility for social assistance under the British Columbia Employment and Assistance Act. The constitutional defence set out shows that BC’s benefit time limit does not render social assistance recipients incapable of exercising their right to security of the person without government intervention under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor does it violate their equality rights under section 15 of the Charter.
I. Income Assistance in British Columbia
II. The Impact of the BCEA Program
III. The Impact of U.S. Welfare Reform
IV. The Constitutionality of the BC Benefit Time Limit
A. Opposition to the Time Limit
B. Section 7 of the Charter
C. Section 15 of the Charter
D. Section 1 of the Charter

Canadian Student Law Review - Volume 1, 2006
A Journal of Legal Papers by Law Students
January 2007

< Note to social conservatives: feel free to skip this next bit and go right to the end of this commentary >

Context and commentary

In recent years, Chris Schafer has written and co-authored a number of reports for the right-of-centre Fraser Institute. When he asked me by e-mail last week to post a link to this recent article of his from the Canadian Student Law Review, I was curious as to why he would want to flog a dead horse, i.e., BC's welfare time limits. After all, anyone who has followed the saga of welfare time limits in BC has pretty much deduced that it was an ill-timed political move by the Campbell government to curry favour with the social conservatives in the province. The policy was loosely based on welfare time limits in the U.S., and it would make BC the first Canadian jurisdiction with such a welfare time limit.

In his article, Chris argues that if BC were to impose time limits on welfare eligibility, this would not violate sections 7 or 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I'll leave the Charter arguments to the Charter experts, but I was under the impression, like Shelagh Day, that "the government retreated in the face of mounting pressure from community organizations, churches, unions, city councils, social policy experts and individuals who let Victoria know that the 24-month rule is both impractical and morally repugnant." [Excerpt from a Vancouver Sun article by Shelagh Day "Time limits for welfare disregard the humanity of poor people (Feb. 16/04).

I'm posting this article because I felt that his points concerning sections 7 and 15 of the Charter might interest the legal eagles in the social advocacy and academic communities who visit Canadian Social Research Links from time to time. You'll find footnotes and references to related online resources in that article as well...

I find it mildly amusing that the abstract of Chris Schafer's article speaks of "[p]ressing back against the juggernaut of Canadian constitutional academic scholarship wedded to the 'progressive' vision of an ever-expanding state..." In fact, I thought it was a conservative juggernaut that was prevailing these days in Canadian social programs. As for the progressive vision of Canadian constitutional academic scholarship, I don't think it focuses on an ever-expanding state, but rather one that respects social justice and dignity of the person and that helps the most disadvantaged among us.

Yet another opportunity to stand on my soapbox and remind folks that the Canadian and American welfare systems are very different from one another:
Please see footnote 17 of this article : "...the composition of Canadian provincial welfare rolls and US state welfare rolls varies on a number of levels. For example, while single-parent families comprise the bulk of US welfare caseloads, in Canada that figure is approximately 29 percent." Unlike the Canadian welfare system, state welfare programs under the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) initiative exclude single people and childless couples, who must apply to the national Food Stamp program and to residual aid programs where they live (if there are any such programs, which is not always the case), as well as people with disabilities (who must apply under the separate American Social Security program). In Canada, singles and childless couples make up close to 60% of the total welfare caseload and households headed people with disabilities account for about a third of the total caseload. These are just a few of the more significant reasons why Canadian welfare shouldn't be compared so simplistically with American programs under TANF.

I finally understand why the advocacy community has been pushing for the BC government to repeal section 27 of the Employment and Assistance regulation ("Time limits for income assistance") even though it's been rendered toothless by the addition of so many exemptions (25) that only a few hundred cases were affected (rather than thousands). It's because as long as there is a section 27 in the regulations, social conservatives will be pressing back against BC's common sense and decency by demanding that those time limits be implemented and enforced, and they will continue to present arguments like those in this article to support their case.

Welfare time limits may not be a contravention of the Charter - but that still doesn't make them good social policy.

< end of this commentary >


Giving the family a bad name:
Paul Martin might want to have a quiet word with his Liberal friends in British Columbia
NOTE: this article is no longer available
February 23, 2004
Carol Goar
"They've already embarrassed him once. Just 16 days after the Prime Minister's swearing-in, police raided the offices of two top Liberal organizers at the Victoria legislature. Now, another problem is brewing. The B.C. Liberal government is poised to start throwing people off welfare this spring. Social activists across the country are rallying to save what's left of Canada's battered income security system. More than 125 organizations — food banks, churches, women's shelters, city councils, human rights associations, health-care groups and First Nations — have appealed to Martin to intervene in B.C."
The Toronto Star


A Response to the Two Year Welfare Limits in British Columbia (PDF file - 133K, 7 pages)
Marge Reitsma-Street (University of Victoria)
Paper presented to the B.C. Association of Social Workers Fall Conference “The Power of Social Work “
Vancouver, Nov. 15, 2003
"Is British Columbia going into history as the first province in the 21st century to exile certain groups of people as undeserving, unnecessary, redundant? Two years, and you are out."
Studies in Policy and Practice
[ Human and Social Development ]
[ University of Victoria ]


British Columbia: Tens of thousands may be cut off welfare next April
By Keith Jones
24 October 2003
"A British Columbia government document estimates that as many as 29,000 people could be kicked off welfare next April. That is when a new time-limit provision that prohibits employable persons without dependants from drawing welfare for more than two years in a five-year period comes into effect."
Canada: News & Social Issues===>250+ links to articles about social issues in Canada, back to November 1997
[ World Socialist Website ]


The workforce according to Coell
October 21, 2003
"On April 1, 2004, the Ministry will kick thousands of BC residents off welfare. This measure is one of a series of measures designed to cut $600 million from the income assistance budget by 2005-06 on top of the $240 million in cuts to the Ministry of Children and Families. How many people will lose benefits as a result of the government's time limit? Murray Coell knows. And he spent Question Period last Wednesday and Thursday refusing to reveal the information contained in his Ministry's own briefing note."


The ticking time bomb of BC's welfare time limits
By Seth Klein
October 6, 2003
Opinion Piece
"Of all the changes the BC government has made to social assistance, the most radical is the introduction of welfare time limits. The rule kicked-in April 1, 2002, and limits "employable" people without children to only two years of social assistance during any five year period. Once they hit the two-year limit, they will be completely cut off assistance. Employable people with children over three-years-old will not be cut off, but will lose $100 per month from a support payment that is already far below the poverty line, making it virtually impossible to make ends meet.
BC is the first province in Canada to introduce welfare time limits. Time limits are an import from the United States, where a five-year lifetime limit was implemented federally in 1996. BC's move represents a fundamental shift in Canadian social policy--a denial of welfare when in need as a basic human right. As such, the eyes of the country are on us, and if allowed to take root in BC, this new policy will likely domino through provinces eager to follow BC's lead.
But before we allow this to happen, what are the risks?"
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - BC Office


Martin Linked to Welfare Cuts : Researchers rap Paul Martin for role in diminished social assistance [dead link]
"In 1995, Paul Martin eliminated national welfare standards. Some say this led to B.C.'s unprecedented decision to impose time limits on many recipients."

Oct. 2-8, 2003 Issue
By Charlie Smith
Vancouver social policy watchdogs seem to think that Paul Martin had something to do with the BC welfare rule (starting in April 2002) that employable welfare recipients can collect benefits for only two out of every five years. Since the 1995 federal Budget, the Prime-Minister-in-Waiting has been responsible for "...the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan, cuts to unemployment insurance, and maintaining low inflation rates -- designed to meet the corporate sector's wishes for a more 'flexible' workforce." ( well as the $100 billion in tax cuts over the next five years announced in the 2000 federal budget.)
- in April 2004, some 62,000 BC welfare recipients in the "expected to work" category will start seeing their benefits revoked (or more precisely, suspended for three years).
Georgia Straight - "Canada's Largest Urban Weekly"


Google Canada Web Search : "welfare time limits, Canada"


The American experience
with welfare time limits:

Kansas Governor signs bill that shortens time families can be on welfare:
Kansas families will be eligible for cash assistance for 24 consecutive months or 36 months over a lifetime
May 16, 2016
Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill Monday that will reduce the number of months families can receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Brownback said the tighter deadlines will encourage people to re-enter the workforce sooner.

Wichita Eagle


Welfare time limits save Michigan millions, but cost 32,090 families
April 2016


Measuring the Dynamic Effects of Welfare Time Limits (PDF - 696K, 41 pages)

State Welfare Time-Limit Policies and Their Effects on Families
July, 2002

How Much do Welfare Recipients Know About Time Limits (two-page PDF file)
December 2003
The Urban Institute


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