After nearly a decade, B.C. is increasing government assistance to people with disabilities.
Beginning Thursday (September 1), people on disability benefits will receive $77 more per month.
However, not all of the 100,000 British Columbians on disability assistance will get the full amount.
Because the province is taking back most of that money for transportation, about 55,000 of the beneficiaries will gain only $11 or $25, depending on their situation.
The government claims this policy is fair to all, while critics have denounced it as mean-spirited.
As the increase took effect today, rallies were held across the province to demand that everyone should get the full $77.
In Vancouver, protesters gathered at the corner of Broadway and Commercial Drive, and one of them was Gordana Budincic.
The 56-year-old woman related that she will get only $25 more. “It’s close to nothing,” Budincic told the Straight.
Like many people with disabilities, Budincic used to pay $45 for a bus pass that is valid for one year. That’s gone now.
Out of the $77 increase, the government will take $52 every month from those who want to continue having a bus pass.
If beneficiaries choose to cancel their bus pass, they will receive the full $77.
Some people get a special transportation subsidy equivalent to $66. If they want to keep that, they won’t get the full $77. They’ll get only an $11 increase.
Around 45,000 people with disabilities don’t use a bus pass or receive a special transportation subsidy. They will get the full amount.
The B.C. branch of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) was one of the organizers of the Vancouver protest.
Tony Page, chair of the B.C. Acorn disability rights group, told the Straight that the cost of living has increased by 20 percent since 2007, the year disability assistance rates were frozen.
Page said that benefits should increase by around $180 a month to catch up with the current cost of living.
Page had this word to describe the clawing back of transportation cost: callous.
Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Melanie Mark attended the protest with her kids and her mother.
The B.C. NDP representative also used the word “callous” to describe the government’s policy.
“It’s an attack on people’s mobility rights,” Mark told the Straight.
Mark was not able to say what specifically will be done by New Democrats if they form government in 2017 on disability benefits.
Noting that there is a problem of affordability in other needs such as housing, child care, and education, Mark said: “We’re looking at everything together, not looking at things in isolation.”
Page Turner came to the rally with her friend Penny Goldsmith to the rally. She has a spine problem, and according to her, no one wants to hire her.
In B.C. people on disability allowance can work. They can earn up to $9,600 before the government starts deducting from their disability cheques.
Like many, Turner has to pay more for her bus pass, and be left with $25. She noted that this will give her $5 or so a week.
“I don’t laugh at that increase,” Turner told the Straight. “I cry, and I starve further.”
After gathering at the corner of Broadway and Commercial Drive, the demonstrations walked to a nearby office of the Ministry of the Social Development and Social Innovation for a short program.
At the second location, a brief program lambasting the B.C. Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark was held.
Among the speakers was Bill Hopwood, an organizer of the Raise the Rates coalition. He noted that while rich people and corporations get tax cuts, poor people get not much help to make their lives better.
Slamming the government, Hopwood told the crowd: “Poverty is a political choice.”
As the program was going on, Jean Swanson, an anti-poverty crusader and recipient of the Order of Canada, passed around food like eggs, bananas, and snack bars.
On her wheelchair, Carla Schmidt related that her landlord increased her rent. She uses a bus pass, and so her disability benefit increase will be $25 only.
“It’s pretty much useless,” Schmidt told the Straight, noting this will not get much food.
According to the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, other rallies were scheduled for the day in Kamloops, Maple Ridge, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert, Richmond, and Victoria.