Newsletter – April 2010

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April 2010 Newsletter for Seniors on Vancouver Island

The political process in now underway in Victoria that will allow the Liberal government to arbitrarily impose the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) on to British Columbians.

Some exemptions and adjustments have been made, where those with large powerful organizations have been able to lobby the Government.

This tax will affect our daily lives. For example after July 1st 2010 the HST will look us in the face, or more correctly hit us in the pocket, every time we enter a pharmacy or grocery store. Products like Asprin, Tums or packets of incontinent supplies which are currently PST exempt will then be subjected to HST, and therefore will cost 7% more. Those types of products are not purchased for enjoyment, they are essential to the daily living of the people buying them. Why, why, why are we adding to their pain?

Who is lobbying for seniors, the poor and the disadvantaged? The Canadian way has been that the various levels of government have systems in place to take care of this section of society. No one plans to be in that unfortunate state. We are told that a huge percentage of Canadians at this time are one or two pay cheques from being homeless as a result of the economic turmoil of the past two years. So who will fate point a finger at, and thumbs down to, next? You, me or……

This is not the foundation that Canada was built on.

Roy Summerhayes.

The following article was written by Michael J. Prince, Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria.

Supports cut for low-income B.C. residents

Minor savings to province signal a devaluation of vulnerable people

By Michael J. Prince, Times Colonist March 9, 2010

On April 1, a number of dental, preventive health and medical services for people struggling to live on disability assistance and income assistance will be cut back.

This is not a fool’s joke; it is Liberal government social policy.

The way these cuts were announced is disturbing from a democratic perspective.

No mention was made in the Ministry of Housing and Social Development’s service plan for 2010 to 2012 released with the budget. Cutting benefits to low-income citizens, including children and persons with disabilities, did not figure in the ministry’s objectives, strategies or performance measures.

The government’s overall strategic plan contains no reference to program retrenchments in regard to the poor. It was after only the budget was presented that these cutbacks appeared in an information bulletin by the ministry.

The nature of these cuts, which total about $25 million over the next two years, is outlined below.

Funeral supplement: Sponsors of immigrants who have the means to pay will be added to the list of people responsible for covering the funeral expenses for low-income persons. Savings, $1.5 million.

Medical equipment and supplies: No longer coverage for pre-made foot orthotics, electrotherapy devices, diagnostic testing devices, such as for diabetes, and contraceptive devices. Savings, $9.3 million.

Life-threatening health need supplements: Income-testing for residents who do not receive income or disability assistance. Certain items no longer covered — optical, dental and extended therapies including chiropractic and physiotherapy. Savings, more than $2 million when combined with savings from medical services cuts below.

Medical services: Income-testing of eligibility and time limits on duration of access to medical health supplements.

Minimum shelter allowance: The $75 monthly benefit eliminated for persons with disabilities and income assistance clients aged 60 to 64 (effective June 1). Savings, $1.9 million.

Bottled water supplement: The $20 monthly supplement for persons with disabilities and income assistance clients eliminated (effective July 1), Savings, $1.7 million

Monthly nutritional supplements: Tighter eligibility requirements for persons with disabilities clients (who may have muscle loss, an immune suppression or neurological deterioration) to qualify for a monthly nutritional supplement. Savings, $5.2 million

Dental services: Examinations, polishing and fluoride treatments permitted just once a year instead of twice a year. X-ray coverage limited to every two years instead of once a year. Savings, $3.1 million.

The cuts are indicative of the Campbell government’s attitude toward the poor and of the future of the social safety net in our post-Olympics era.

Why is the Liberal government cutting essential services to those living on the edge in our province? How are these cuts moving B.C. forward toward the great goal of building the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, those with special needs and children at risk?

The ministry justifies these changes as necessary to ensure the province can manage an increased caseload, make certain income assistance programs are sustainable and provide benefits to as many people as possible.

These are dubious and unsavory claims.

Caseloads have grown as a result of the recession, as they are intended to do. They will gradually ease as the economic recovery continues.

These program changes, described by the ministry as designed to “protect service for low-income clients” — a phrase out of George Orwell’s newspeak — in fact involve tightening access to various benefits and reducing the number of items covered.

The estimated savings for the coming year represent about less than three days of income assistance funding — hardly critical for the sustainability of the system.

If a notion of equity is at play here, it is an impoverished sense of fairness toward people in low-income circumstances and on income assistance.

Missing is the fuller version of equity long endorsed by Canadians, with the progressive allocation of benefits and burdens between people with low incomes and those with higher incomes.

Most troubling, these targeted cuts and minor savings to the provincial treasury, signal a further devaluation of this already vulnerable population of British Columbians.

These cutbacks set an administrative tone that will be reflected in delivery systems and a political context for additional cuts to the already meagre benefits and supports to persons with disabilities and children and families living in poverty.

The time is overdue for our provincial government to undertake widespread legislative hearings and consultations on the feasibility, design and implementation of a comprehensive anti-poverty reduction strategy.

Otherwise, we are fooling no one that we are building the best system of supports in the country for all those disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Michael J. Prince is the Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Health cuts for poor, disabled cost us all.

The latest cuts to health services for the poorest British Columbians crossed a line.

The income assistance and disability benefit cuts are cruel, wasteful and petty.

And the hypocrisy and contempt for the public — everyone, not just those disabled and poor people hurt by the cuts — is shameful.

The cuts weren’t announced as part of the budget last week or included in the ministry’s service plan.

Instead, the public affairs bureau — the government’s $26-million-a-year communications arm — put out a news release headlined “Province protects services for low-income clients.”

In fact, it was cutting services for those people.

The basic goal is to reduce the health benefits for people living on provincial disability benefits and income assistance.

They are already dirt poor. A disabled person in B.C., unable to work and with no other income, gets $906 a month, with $375 of that for housing. That’s $10,872 a year, including $4,500 for housing.

Meanwhile, MLAs can claim up to $19,000 just for an apartment to use while they’re in Victoria. And Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for income assistance, billed taxpayers $18,654 in the most recent reporting period just for meals and accommodation while he was in the capital.

Yet he says people paying all their bills from an income barely half that much should find money for medical costs.

Disability and income assistance benefits have included some medical equipment and supplies necessary “to help reduce serious health risks.”

But the program was too generous, the government decided.

For example, the benefit plan recognized that people on income assistance or disability benefits couldn’t afford birth control and covered the cost of IUDs. No more.

So people who were not good at taking birth control pills or couldn’t use them for medical reasons are now at greater risk of pregnancy. The result will be more unwanted children born to poor families, or more abortions. Neither seems desirable for a sensible government.

The government will no longer pay for medical testing devices such as glucometers for diabetics. People with the illness — often called a disease of poverty — are supposed to find the money themselves out of an income equivalent to a full-time job paying $5.75 an hour.

Most won’t. Glucometers are essential for measuring glucose levels in the blood and managing diabetes. Without monitoring, which lets individuals manage their illness, the risks of medical complications and much more expensive care rise sharply.

What can be dumber than measures that increase illness, abortions and unwanted pregnancies?

And what can be smaller than beating up on these people to save, in the case of the cuts to medical equipment and supplies, $3 million this year and $6 million next year?

The government had no hesitation in giving MLAs a raise last April (though salaries are frozen this year). And it spent $16.4 million last year to enrich pensions for MLAs — more than all these cuts to the vulnerable will save annually.

Petty and wasteful seem covered.

Cruel is more subjective. But consider this cut. The government has provided a minimum shelter allowance to people between 59 and 65 even if they were homeless or not paying rent. It was only $75 a month, but it helped.

Now it’s taking that money away.

So a 62-year-old woman who had been getting by on the basic disability income — $531 a month — plus the $75 shelter allowance, will now face a 12-per-cent cut in income.

If she makes it to 65, the federal pension of $1,170 a month will be $640 higher than the amount the Liberal government thinks seniors should be able to survive on.

The Liberals didn’t run on cuts to support for disabled British Columbians.

And Coleman has no studies or analysis to show this makes sense. It would be hard to find a doctor in B.C., outside the Liberal caucus, at least, who would support them.

Dumb, small, mean — and incompetent.

Footnote: Coleman said the cuts are needed because more people are on income assistance. That hardly seems unexpected. The economic slowdown has meant more people have lost their jobs. For too many, once EI benefits and their savings run out, income assistance is the only option.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist.