Every year, an all-party committee of the B.C. legislative assembly does a familiar routine.
The finance and government services committee goes around the province, asks the public what they want to see in the upcoming budget, and releases a report.
As far as antipoverty proponent Trish Garner remembers, one measure is always included in the committee’s list of recommendations.
It’s for the government to increase income- and disability-assistance rates. Whether or not the government adopts the recommendation is another thing.
When the current committee issued its report on August 7, Garner and her colleagues with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition were shocked and disappointed.
Garner claimed that for the first time in many years, the committee did not recommend an increase.
“I’m never sure how much the government takes from the finance committee and their final report, but I do think that, at least, it should be in there, even if the government are not acting upon it,” Garner told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Garner’s coalition has launched a campaign to correct what its considers as an error by the committee.
“We’re asking our supporters around the province to email the finance committee to let them know that…they made a mistake in their recommendations,” Garner explained.
The province has seen two increases in assistance rates under the B.C. NDP government of Premier John Horgan.
One was a $100 monthly increase, which was announced a few days after Horgan was sworn into office in July 2017. The second one was a $50 raise to monthly rates, which was part of the 2019 budget.
The $150 increase has boosted income assistance for a single and employable person to $760 per month. A person on disability assistance now gets $1,183 per month.
In its report, the legislative committee noted that several organizations have “acknowledged recent increases to income and disability assistance rates, but explained that they still remain well below the poverty line”.
According to the committee, the groups “stressed that further increases are required”. In addition, these increases should be tied to what is known as the “Market Basket Measure”, which represents a basic standard of what a person needs as calculated by Statistics Canada, and indexed to the cost of living.
A submission by the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition noted that the MBM ranges from $1,476 to $1,675 a month in B.C. for a single person. For a family of four and depending on which community they live in, the amount is between $2,952 and $3,350.
The committee made three recommendations regarding social assistance. One suggestion read: “Provide long-term training and education to low-income individuals to enable them to transition into stable, well-paying jobs.”
Committee chair and B.C. NDP Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith was out camping, and could not be reached by his staff for official comment.