Wage clawback reform would create an incentive to work: advocates

·3 min read

New Brunswick's Common Front for Social Justice is calling for the provincial government to allow those on social assistance to keep more of the income they earn working.

Robert MacKay, a member of the advocacy group's Moncton chapter, joined with other members outside Moncton South MLA Greg Turner’s office on Monday morning to hand him a letter with that request.

MacKay, who is on social assistance, said he now receives $566 each month, adding that this is after a recent cost of living increase of $2.

But Monday's request wasn't about increasing social assistance payments per se. Instead, the group is looking for the Higgs government to allow recipients to keep up to $500 of income earned on their own, rather than the current limit of $150 per month, he said. Anything people on social assistance earn above $150 a month right now, they must pay back at 70 cents on the dollar.

Turner came out to hear what the group had to say and to receive the letter.

He said he recognized that these are challenging times for many people and COVID-19 makes it even tougher, and appreciated that the group “had come with solutions.”

Turner could not commit one way or the other to the request, but said he would hand deliver the letter to Premier Blaine Higgs when he is back at the legislature in Fredericton this week.

MacKay told the Times & Transcript the idea behind the request is to create an incentive for people to work. When people can keep only $150, it gives them only a few hours to build a relationship with an employer who could potentially hire them full time, he said. The clawback as it stands discourages people from trying to work, he said.

People on social assistance, like himself, are “hard to fit”, he said, but changing the program in this way would give employers a chance to know what he can bring to their workforce.

The program encourages people to try and work part-time, said Jean-Claude Basque, with the hope that it could turn into more hours.

People who have been out of work may have significant gaps in their work history because of a program that encouraged them not to work, said Basque. This would tackle that, he said.

“It’s a natural on-ramp back into the workforce,” said MacKay.

“There is a huge amount of money spent on government training programs,” said MacKay. But programs like those aren’t working for a lot of people because they feel artificial. This idea being proposed would allow the government to explore a different solution that might get people working, he said.

Similar letters were being delivered by Common Front chapters to MLAs across the province Monday.

In March, Gail Harding, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, told the Times & Transcript that the government is reviewing a proposal to raise the exemption to $500 per month.

The City of Moncton's poverty and social inclusion committee threw its support behind an effort to reform "wage clawbacks" in March.

Moncton council also voted in April to send a letter to the province asking for a regulation under the Family Income Security to be amended, allowing for the first $500 in earnings to be exempt from clawbacks.

-- With files from David Gordon Koch

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal