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Advocates call on province to support those accessing welfare but dinged on EI

Under current regulations, funds are deducted from income or disability assistance
A letter written by a number of advocates is asking the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction to express their concerns for the current EI regulation for people accessing income or disability assistance. (Photo: Pixabay)

A group of advocates has written a letter to Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, asking the government to make sure that “vulnerable people who are currently housed can afford to stay home” in the midst of this global pandemic.

People accessing income or disability assistance are allowed to work part-time and earn up to $400 per month to help them cover their basic needs on top of their welfare cheques. Due to the pandemic, many are being laid off or are scared to stop working because if they apply for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits— which is treated as unearned funds under the Ministry’s current regulations — that money they receive will be deducted from their income or disability assistance “dollar for dollar.”

The advocacy groups are calling on the province to stop deducting all EI payments from income and disability assistance benefits for recipients who were working part-time prior to the pandemic.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: How to apply for employment insurance

“The government has shown it understands the importance of the earnings exemption to many people in the province.”

The letter — written by Disability Alliance BC, Community Legal Assistance Society, Atira Women’s Resource Society, Together Against Poverty Society and First United Church — points to the planned increase as evidence of the province’s understanding, which was set to see the $400 rise to $500 on July 1, 2020, in the amount that can be earned on top of income or disability assistance.

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Effective April 1, the federal government announced the new Emergency Support benefit for workers who were laid off and not eligible for EI, along with the Emergency Care benefit for workers who are sick, quarantined or unable to work due to the virus. The letter is asking the minister for temporary exemptions of those programs for some people, who may not be eligible for EI because they were self-employed or did not have enough hours of insurable employment as needed by EI applying requirements.

“These clients will still face an abrupt decrease in income even if EI benefits are exempted from income under the welfare legislation.”

The letter warns that if these exemptions are not put in place, people who had earned income prior to the pandemic “will be disproportionately affected in relation to all other workers in B.C.”

In addition to the exemptions, the letter is calling for more crisis supplement support to all those accessing welfare as they face unexpected costs such as having to purchase hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and a two-week supply of groceries. Those supports would include a Ministry hotline to provide people expedited access to supplements, along with providing expedited in-person services for people who don’t have phones and temporarily waiving existing caps on spending for crisis supplements that would allow staff to issue money up to the amount needed on a case-by-case basis.

According to Roxanne Kropp, senior public affairs officer for the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, more information on how the Ministry will support those on income and disability assistance will be released this week.

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