Woman with diabetes, anemia struggling after special diet funds slashed

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Woman with diabetes, anemia struggling after special diet funds slashed

The holes in Zita Downey's winter boots are so bad that she's wearing plastic grocery bags inside of them to stay dry.

"I'm a diabetic, you're not supposed to get your feet wet," Downey said.

The 50-year-old Dartmouth woman receives income assistance and says she cannot afford a new pair of boots. On top of that, the Department of Community Services has cut the amount that she receives for a special diet from $119 to $53 a month.

Downey wonders how she's going to be able to afford the fruit, vegetables and high-protein foods she needs to buy due to her diabetes and the severe iron-deficiency anemia which leaves her with fatigue and shortness of breath. 

Allowance cut twice

In January, Downey was told that her special diet allowance was being reduced from $119 to $80 a month, effective February 2017. Her income assistance was also reduced from $1,022 to $925 a month. Downey appealed.

On Wednesday, Downey received an appeal decision stating that the department further reduced her special diet allowance to $53.

"I just feel like the supports are being pulled and you're being jerked around in different directions," Downey said Thursday.

"It's really difficult... It just adds a lot of stress when you have your budget in place."

Bus pass funding also cut

Downey also found out that the $78 a month she receives for a bus pass to help in her job search will be cut off in April. Downey is taking training courses to prepare her to return to the workforce. She previously did administrative work.

In its decision, the department told Downey that their employment support and income assistance policy does not support a low-fat diet for obesity or a high-protein diet for iron deficiency.

"More cost-effective alternatives exist for iron deficiency, such as supplements," the appeal said.

Iron-rich diet needed

Downey's doctor has told her that she requires an iron-rich diet for at least six months.

"I can't even look in the beef section in the store," Downey said. "Even with the money you're getting, it's hard to do that."

Downey said her mental health has deteriorated in the last few months because of the cuts.

"The message I'm getting is 'You don't matter,'" Downey said.

Allowance hasn't increased in 21 years

No one from the Community Services Department was available for an interview.

In a statement, department spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn said the funding amount for special diets is based on a person's medical conditions.  

"If an individual's circumstances change based on their medical information, the amount of funding provided is reviewed and adjusted accordingly," Fairbairn wrote. "Caseworkers work with their clients to review the options available."

‎The department is reviewing the entire benefit structure and expects to submit recommendations in the coming months, Fairbairn said.

Last week, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission dismissed a discrimination complaint, for a second time, ​from five social assistance recipients about the provincial special diet allowance, which hasn't been increased since 1996.

About 9,000 Nova Scotians receive the special diet assistance each month.