N.B. reduces social assistance clawbacks for people working, receiving child support

·3 min read
Bruce Fitch, New Brunswick minister of social development, says the province plans more changes. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Bruce Fitch, New Brunswick minister of social development, says the province plans more changes. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

People receiving social assistance from the New Brunswick government will no longer see their benefits reduced because they get child support or live with family.

Starting Oct. 1, child support payments, Canada-New Brunswick Housing Benefit and compensation related to personal injuries will no longer be seen as household income, and won't be included in calculating how much a family or individual receives in social assistance.

In an announcement Monday, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said $10.8 million of the province's budget is now assigned to paying for these and other changes.

"The success of a society is linked to the well-being of each and every citizen within it," he said.

Smaller clawback for people who work

Also announced Monday was a change in the clawback for people who work. People who receive social assistance and find work will see no deduction if they make $500 a month, and will see a 50 cents deduction for each additional dollar earned over $500.

Before this change, people would see a reduction in their social assistance benefits if they made more than $150, with a 30-cent deduction for each additional dollar earned over $150.

About 3,500 households will benefit from the increased in the wage exemption, the province says.

Social assistance amounts were not increased under the reforms. A single employable person on social assistance will still get about $570 a month. When asked if this is enough to live on, Fitch said this is a temporary benefit to help people find other social assistance programs and find employment.

The New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice said it met twice with the province to lobby for fewer clawbacks. Spokesperson Auréa Cormier said the organization was armed with support from 40 organizations for the $500 income deduction limit.

"I think [Fitch] was struck by the broad support that we had for this modification," she said.

Cormier said the province was receptive to what the groups had to say, especially since members had developed a rationale for why this change would support people better while they look for work, and would be more likely to set them up for success.

With the wage exemption change, people would have a bigger safety net while they get back on their feet, she said.

Recipients who live with family won't see cut

The province is also axing a 25 per cent reduction of social assistance if the person is living with their parents, or spending less than 25 per cent of their monthly assistance payment on housing.

Cormier said her organization also lobbied for this change. She said the previous clawbacks was not helpful because people living with family were likely still in need.

"Very often if they're living with elderly parents, they were reaching out and helping the parents, and that money would, you know, be really needed," she said.

Changes to long-term disability social assistance

The reform coming into effect Oct. 1 will also include allowing nurse practitioners to sign medical records for people on disability. The province will modernizing its definition of "deaf" to be include a broader subset of hearing-impaired people.

Fitch said nurse practitioners have been notified of the change, and the added power is meant to make it easier for people on disability to fill out their paperwork every year since it can be difficult to get a doctor's appointment.

CBC
CBC

According to the province, 26,949 individuals were receiving social assistance as of September. About 13,000 adults and 7,000 people under the age of 19 receive short-term assistance, while 6,000 adults and 3050 under 19 receive long-term benefits for being blind, deaf or disabled by the medical advisory board.

"Today's announcement will not mark the end of our social assistance reform," Fitch said. "This is a continuing program revision process."

Cormier said certification of disability is a "real problem" in the province because it's too restrictive. She also said the basic income assistance amount is "very very" low. Both these issues will be top of mind in the future, she said.

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