Proposed changes help B.C.’s most vulnerable, says Province

Shane Simpson

PEOPLE experiencing or at risk of poverty and homelessness will soon have better and faster access to supports through proposed amendments to employment assistance legislation that was introduced on Monday, October 7.

Shane Simpson

“Poverty reduction and homelessness prevention are about more than large, sweeping changes – they also require a close look at existing laws, policies and programs to ensure that they are helping people and not harming them,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “With these changes, we are putting people first and removing mean-spirited policies that were punitive to some of B.C.’s most vulnerable people and furthermore created no savings for government.”

The proposed amendments to the Employment and Assistance Act and the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act address commitments in TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. The proposed legislative amendments build on policy updates that came into effect July 1, 2019.

The proposed changes introduced include:

* improving the financial security of low-income seniors by ending the need for people on income and disability assistance to pursue early Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits if they are younger than 65;

* protecting vulnerable youth by eliminating the two-year independence rule as a barrier to receiving income assistance;

* modernizing the ministry’s definition of spouse to better support people entering and leaving relationships by:
* increasing the amount of time two people can live together in a common-law relationship before reducing their assistance to the lower couple’s rate; and

* providing the singles assistance rate to two married people who have separated but not yet divorced, and are living in the same residence independently.

* eliminating the practice of cutting people off from assistance who are homeless or at risk of homelessness if they are unable to provide documentation for eligibility and replacing the practice with a modest monetary penalty;

* ensuring that the repayment of amounts owing to the ministry is consistent by creating more fair and flexible monthly maximum deductions for people receiving assistance; and

* helping people receive eligible assistance sooner by aligning the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal (EAAT) with other tribunals in B.C. to allow for new evidence to be presented in an existing appeal process, rather than requiring people to reapply.

These changes have been advocated by people with lived experience and the organizations that support them. Most of the changes will come into effect January 1, 2020, with the rest to come into effect once the necessary regulatory changes are made.

Delivering on the Poverty Reduction Strategy is a shared priority between government and the BC Green Party caucus and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.

Raji Mangat, Executive Director, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund, said: “We are pleased to see changes to the definition of spouse that help in ensuring that support is not predetermined on the basis of unfounded, outdated and gendered assumptions about financial dependency in relationships. This is an important step toward removing prohibitive conditions in social assistance policy that adversely impact B.C. residents experiencing or at risk of poverty.”

Leigha Worth, Executive Director and General Counsel, BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC), added: “BCPIAC is encouraged by this government’s commitment to change the rules of evidence in EAAT hearings to be not only more fair, but socially responsible. This is a necessary and laudable step to addressing the numerous systemic barriers that expose British Columbians living in poverty to serious and utterly unnecessary economic, health and social risks.”

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