Sask. widens budgeting services for social assistance, which advocates say isn't the issue

The Saskatchewan government announced additional spaces for people on social assistance to receive budgeting help with $456,000 in funding. (Germain Wilson/CBC - image credit)
The Saskatchewan government announced additional spaces for people on social assistance to receive budgeting help with $456,000 in funding. (Germain Wilson/CBC - image credit)

The province is expanding a program that is meant to help people on social assistance manage their benefits by assigning someone to budget their money.

The Saskatchewan government is spending $456,000 to add 300 more spaces for clients of trusteeship and money management services, bringing the count of spaces to 1,100.

"The real issue for them is that they can't budget money that they don't have," said Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry.

The anti-poverty ministry is among a group of advocates who oppose the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program's structure in recent years.

People in both the SIS program and the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program can access the spaces.

The government's announcement came a day after the provincial auditor released a report that said the SIS program needs to improve access to residents, though the province said the announcement wasn't in response to the report.

Government says goal for clients is self-sufficiency

The province said in a Wednesday news release it would fund the program in the 2023-24 fiscal years to help clients with complex challenges manage their finances.

Jeff Redekop, the executive director of income assistance and programs and services with the Ministry of Social Services, said a trustee would receive the income assistance benefits and work with the client to use them in their "best interest."

The ultimate goal is to help clients become self-sufficient, according to the province, but trustees with the program can help clients buy groceries, or make direct payments on their behalf.

When asked if the expansion of the money management service was the solution, when advocates called for more money for people on social assistance, Redekop said that while an increase in funds is helpful, the budgeting is important.

"Providing trusteeship and money management support is a critical part of matching the service to the need," he said.

LISTEN | How feasible is living on Saskatchewan Income Support?

Redekop also pointed to the $30-a-month increases to income support outlined in the most recent budget, which has been criticized by advocates as being too little.

The current 800 spaces — which are often at capacity, Redekop said — are managed through community-based partners, such as the Salvation Army. The province has opened a tender for other partners to fill the new spaces.

'They're having to make impossible decisions'

Gilmer said most people on the social assistance program budget better than he does.

"The answer is probably not moving a whole bunch of people on to trusteeship programming," he said.

"When people are forced to pay their basic utilities out of a very inadequate shelter allowance, they're having to make impossible decisions between paying rent, paying for food and paying basic utilities."

He said all basic utilities should be covered with a separate shelter benefit to cover rent and other needs, which Redekop said is a part of the SAID program.

NDP social services and housing critic Meara Conway said the budgeting service could be helpful but is "an inadequate response to some of the concerns around the SIS program."

She pointed to the provincial auditor's report saying it outlines how people are struggling to make ends meet with the income benefits rates.

Rob Kruk/CBC News
Rob Kruk/CBC News

She said the monthly shelter and food rates — about $975 for a single person living in Regina or Saskatoon — is "an impossible ask of individuals given the growing cost of living."

"We need much more significant and dramatic changes to this program. This is a mere tweak that won't move the dial at all in terms of the problems with these programs," she said.