A new “family bonus” program is among the pledges made by the B.C NDP today (April 19) as part of a plan to reduce poverty and income inequality.
In a $210-million proposal that the NDP says will bring an estimated 8,400 children out of poverty, the party is promising to provide up to $70 per child each month for low and moderate income families if elected.
“It would be inexpensive to implement administratively, and it would ensure that the money that we direct goes to families directly, to reduce poverty and to reduce inequality,” NDP Leader Adrian Dix said at a press conference at the Marpole Oakridge Community Centre.
But a proposal from the party to raise income-assistance rates by $20 a month for all singles and couples within two years is being criticized by advocates who have been calling for a significant increase to the provincial rates.
“Twenty dollars a month within the next two years is pathetic,” Adrienne Montani, the provincial coordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, told the Straight by phone. “We were looking for a much more significant lift in the welfare rates immediately…because it’s just abysmally low right now.”
Under current welfare policies, a single employable person receives $610 a month. Couples receive $877 per month, while the rate for a lone parent with one child is $946, and $1,101 for couples with two children.
Bill Hopwood, an organizer with the anti-poverty advocacy group Raise the Rates, said the $20 a month “will make no difference whatsoever” and predicted the small increase would see many landlords raise rents in low-income housing by the same amount.
“Twenty dollars divided by 30 days is…pretty miniscule,” he said. “And that’s a big disappointment.”
As Dix stood in front of a group of parents with young children this morning, the party leader acknowledged that the plan “doesn’t respond to all the problems,” but called the strategy a start.
“These are practical solutions for today, and…they don’t meet the high bar and the big program costs that some people would hope for, but they’re practical and they’re what we can afford right now,” he told reporters. “We know we’re going to inherit a terrible fiscal situation from the Liberals…and our plan reflects that.”
The NDP proposal also includes pledges to index welfare rates to inflation, and double the monthly earnings exemption for people on welfare to $400 a month—measures that were met more positively by Montani.
The family bonus program was also good news to the advocate, who said it’s positive that the proposal consists of an actual bonus rather than a tax credit, and applies to children up to the age of 17. The B.C. Liberals’ plan for an Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which was announced in the 2013 budget, would allow eligible families to receive a tax credit of up to $55 per month for each child under the age of six.
The proposal announced by the NDP today would also see lone parents on income assistance given an exemption on child-support payments of up to $100 a month.
Montani noted this will bring the province back to where it was 10 years ago, when she said the B.C. Liberal government removed the exemption and implemented a 100-percent clawback of child maintenance. First Call and other groups have been advocating for a $300-a-month exemption.
“It’s hard to get excited about going back 10 years, I’ll just say that,” said Montani. “But we’re happy…to see it in principle.”
Dix, who held his press conference in the riding of B.C. Liberal social development minister Moira Stilwell, noted that B.C. has had the second-highest child-poverty rate in the country for the last eight years.
“This plan makes sense—it’s a practical plan,” he said. “It’s not all that we would like to do of course, but reflects, I think, our priorities in this province, and it reflects a fundamental fact about the economy—that in this day and age, we can’t afford to leave people behind.”
The proposal also includes a plan to boost funding to increase front-line staff at the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and increase support for Community Living B.C.
The NDP say the cost of implementing the platform would be $28 million in 2013/2014, $248 million in 2014/2015, and $282 million in the third year, for a total of $558 million. This amount would include $146 million the party would re-allocate from the B.C. Liberals’ early childhood tax benefit program.
Stilwell issued a news release criticizing the NDP’s spending promise.
“The difference between our two parties has never been more clear,” she said. “Today’s BC Liberals have a plan to control government spending and grow the economy while Adrian Dix, wants to spend money faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100 metre dash."
The B.C. NDP’s proposed family bonus program would apply to families earning up to $66,000 annually. Families earning an annual income of $25,000 or less would be granted $829 a year, and those earning $50,000 would see $329 annually. Parents on income assistance would also be eligible for the bonus.