Launch of new income support program 'a long time coming,' says advocate

Sheldon Pollett, executive director of Choices for Youth, says the employment support stability pilot project will help people address barriers for youths.  (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Sheldon Pollett, executive director of Choices for Youth, says the employment support stability pilot project will help people address barriers for youths. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

A Newfoundland and Labrador pilot project on income support is being welcomed by organizations in the province that work with people who receive the benefit.

The employment support stability pilot project, announced by the provincial government on Wednesday, aims to let income support recipients keep more of their earnings when they begin a new job and/or maintain or increase their hours of employment.

Sheldon Pollett, executive director of youth employment and housing organization Choices for Youth, said it's particularly important to enact these types of measures now.

"We need every tool in the toolbox if we're going to solve some of these longstanding issues in our community that have now been exacerbated through COVID," he said.

Pollett said it's important for the public to recognize that people participating in this project may be coming from differing "starting places" from others.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

"We have to be cognizant of where they are and taking approaches that work based on that versus what works based on where my life is. They need different supports, they need different models of income support and playing with those rules."

A key element in programs like this one, he said, is consideration of how young people can maintain employment and housing.

New exemption formula

John Abbott, minister of children, seniors and social development, said the project will help the government update its income support program, especially for youths entering the workforce.

The program features a nw earnings exemption formula that will allow participants to keep more of their income, employment continuation bonuses and community supports.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

While the program was officially announced Wednesday, the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development said 86 participants had already enrolled in the program's "soft launch," and of those, 10 participants no longer require income support to supplement their earnings.

A long time coming

Laura Winters, chief executive officer of charity Stella's Circle, said having steady employment can improve mental health, physical health, quality of life and help people find community.

"We believe it's foundational to helping people overcome the barriers that keep them from leading the lives that they want to live for themselves," she said.

Winters said the employment stability employment program provides a framework for community organizations like Choices for Youth and Stella's Circle to work with the government to improve support and access to services.

The need for programs like this, Winters said, is huge.

"We have many people we serve who are in receipt of income support. And we also know on the heels of coming and moving out of the pandemic that poverty is a massive issue," she said.

"It's impacting the housing crisis, it's impacting people's ability to put food on the table. And so with the rates of poverty increasing, this kind of change in incentive to the income support system becomes even more important."

She said the program acknowledges the challenges that people transitioning from income support to stable employment face — and addresses the barriers with policy change.

Pollett said the program was "a long time coming."

"This is years of advocacy by community groups, people within the system themselves, saying, 'Look, there's a better way to support people, getting them what they need so long term they can be employed.'"

Programs like this allow people within the system to "have the kind of lives that, you know, all of us quite frankly deserve," he said.

"So it feels absolutely amazing to see this coming to fruition after so many years of advocating," he said.

Funding for the pilot projectcomes from the Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador workforce development agreement.

Abbott said the pilot is expected to be fine-tuned over its intended three years, but he envisions the project continuing indefinitely.

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