New Brunswick chases man for $264 from 1997

A Minto man is upset that the New Brunswick government wants him to recover $264 in social assistance overpayments dating back to 1997.

Ron Powers received a letter recently saying the province's Department of Social Development’s recovery unit discovered an accounting error. Apparently, Powers was given an extra $264 in 1997.

Powers said the department’s tactic is just further proof of the province’s struggling finances.

“Every time I think of it, I can't get that picture out of my head of medieval times when they come to your door and take the guy, shake him down. That's all I see out of it,” he said.

“I see they're desperate, they need money and they're going to strike at the heart of the low-income earners because of the big guys, the guys that aren’t paying their fair share."

He said he hasn’t been on social assistance for more than a decade.

Powers also said he never received a notice that he owed the government money when the alleged overpayment occurred. But he said after 15 years, he doesn't have any documentation to prove or disprove whether he actually owes the money.

The letter he received said Revenue Canada has agreed to hold back any income tax refunds or tax credits that he claims and will pass the payment back to the provincial government.

As Powers points out, the provincial government has been looking at ways to erase its massive deficit.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs announced earlier this fall that the projected deficit is now $356 million, nearly double the estimate in March.

The Alward government has already announced some small tax increases, spending cuts, civil service reductions and plans to sell off some surplus provincial buildings.

As a part of the deficit-fighting plan, the Department of Social Development formed the specialized recovery unit.

The group has been ordered to track down more than 3,000 people who owe the province money.

Jean-François Pelletier of the Department of Social Development said the recovery unit is necessary to help recoup some of the money the province is owed.

"Because of the economy of the province, because of the fact that this is taxpayers’ money we're talking about — $14.5 million in tax money that was given to people that the province needs to [recoup]," he said.

So far, the unit has recovered more than $500,000 that the government paid out by mistake.

Pelletier could not answer how far back the province will go back to find overpayments,

But Powers said if he has to pay, he wants the provincial government to give him 15 years to come up with the money.

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