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The BC government shows no signs of re-instating $45/year subsidized bus pass for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, InclusionBC , TAPS  and other advocacy groups are continuing their campaign to let everyone receiving PWD benefits keep the $77/month increase regardless of whether they need a bus pass, and raise the PWD benefit rate to $1200 per month. They are meeting with Michelle Stilwell, Minister for Social Development and Innovation in late March where they will demand that the government not only reverse its decision to claw back the bus pass, but that it also comes up with a serious plan to raise people out of poverty and increase and index the PWD rates to reflect the rising cost of living.

The issue has been brought to the attention of British Columbians not only through mainstream and social media, but has also appeared in local community papers–like this excellent letter in the Delta Optimist published in my “hometown,” followed by my own contribution in the next issue.

Minister's Minute - March 2016.jpg(Btw, the fish in the story are the male of the species.)

In my column I refer to a blogger from the disability community who asks the question:

A. “Do you think that I have a right to exist?”

Using deductive logic…she takes the reader through a series of premises….

if you answered, “yes”, then you believe that:

B. “My right to exist is thus predicated on the possibility of my being able to acquire what I need to exist.”

and then she hits our government between the eyes:

C. “By not providing the funds necessary to safely house and feed and care for oneself, the BC government is, in effect, denying people their right to exist.”

It was her post that hit me between the eyes, too and inspired me to speak out. For if we allow our government’s inhumane decisions to go unchallenged, we ourselves are complicit and diminished.

Here’s mssinenomine’s hard-hitting  post, BC Budget & Disability Benefits: The Raise Up That Was Just Another Let Down

 

 

77 fadeout black 2.jpg

The $77 per month rate increase in disability assistance announced by the BC government on February 16 sounded like good news at first. But like a photograph that fades out toward the edges, the increase—the first in nine years—began to disappear the closer I got to the edges of the truth. The Times Colonist called it the “now you see it now you don’t” benefit increase.

Here are the facts:

The net increase People with Disabilities will receive will vary according to the cost of transportation supports they already receive from the government.

  • 45,000 British Columbians who do not receive the special transportation subsidy or live in areas not serviced by Translink or BC Transit or choose not to purchase the government subsidized bus pass will see a $77 net increase to their monthly benefit
  • 35,000 British Columbians who live in communities served by Translink or BC Transit currently receive an annual, “almost free” subsidized bus pass if they apply for it and  pay a $45 annual administration fee.  Under the new regime, if they want to continue to receive the bus pass, they will have $52 deducted from their monthly benefit and they will still have to pay the annual $45 fee. The result is that they will only see a small net increase of $25 to their monthly cheque.
  • 20,000 British Columbians who cannot take public transit, currently receive a special transportation subsidy as a lump-sum annual payment of $790.56 in addition to their disability benefit. Beginning in September, this benefit will be paid monthly by adding $66 to their monthly cheque. But because this is already a previous benefit, their net increase will only be a paltry $11 per month

The government summarized these changes in this misleading chart below which was removed from the BC Gov’t website here.

PWD_Rates

This chart is misleading because in the column “CURRENT UNEVEN RATES” the government includes the “Transportation Supports” in the monthly PWD amounts when in fact, monthly disability cheques currently do not include them. Those allowances and bus passes are administered and received as additional separate benefits. Currently the monthly cheque for a single person with disabilities is the same for everyone, $906.42 whether or not you qualify for a bus pass or other transportation subsidy.

No one currently receives a cheque for $958 or $972.

The Chart is confusing and obfuscates the facts.

PWD_Rates Edit 5.png

The government justifies these changes by saying they are about creating fairness and equity for the 45,000 people who weren’t receiving any transportation supports. But their attempts at equality, through monetizing the transportation supports and distributing $983 worth of benefits equally does not automatically create equal outcomes.

For example: people with disabilities who live in communities where a bus pass purchased directly from BC Transit costs less than $52 will have more money in their pocket for rent and food than their counterparts living in Metro Vancouver and other cities where the costs of living are significantly higher.

Where you Live

Monthly Benefit

Cost of Subsidized Bus Pass

Cost of non- subsidized Bus Pass*

Balance left for groceries and shelter after paying for transportation

Vancouver 

$983

$52

$931

Penticton

$983

$45

$938

Fort St. John

$983

$40

$943

Quesnel

$983

$35

$948

100 Mile House

$983

$28

$955

Hazelton/Smithers

$983

$15

$968

*Figures taken from BC Transit website

The government’s attempt to bring more equality has not erased inequities in the system. It has created greater inequity and injustice. This is especially true when it comes to housing costs.

Where is the justice in the system when a person with disabilities who needs a bus pass and who lives in Vancouver has less money for shelter and groceries than a person living in Smithers where shelter costs are significantly lower? If the government is truly committed to creating a level playing field, as Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell stated, disability supports should include “a portability that reflects regional variations in the costs of necessities like transportation and utilities”.

Using figures from 2011, the average rent for a bachelor apartment in Vancouver was $839. After paying $52 for a subsidized bus pass that leaves just $40 for food and clothing ($931-$839-$52). The gross injustice is apparent  even if you use the government’s own outdated Cost of Living calculator which pegs the average cost for a small 500 sq. ft apartment in East Vancouver at $645.  After paying rent and buying a subsidized bus pass, a disabled Vancouverite will have only $286 for groceries, grooming, clothing  and basic communication (telephone). According to a 2009 BC Stats survey of household spending the average costs for these after shelter needs was $602 monthly. This means a person with disabilities experiences a gap of over $300 between what they receive and what it costs to live. And yet the best the BC government can do after 9 years of frozen rates–among the lowest in the country–is to give people with disabilities less than $18 per week and then have the gall to clawback two thirds by charging them $12 per week if they need a bus pass.

It’s hard to understand why the outcry over the #buspassclawback took the government by surprise. When people have a sense that they are at an unfair disadvantage relative to others, or that they have not received their “fair share,”  they will challenge the system that is responsible for the injustice. This is especially likely to happen if a person’s or group’s fundamental needs are not being met, or if there are large discrepancies between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

poverty more disabling than my disability.jpg-large.jpg

Photo credit: @couragesings

It is past the time that the BC government heeded the evidence-based recommendation of disability advocacy groups and raised the PWD benefit to $1200–a level that begins to approach the true cost of living in this province and would reduce the gap between what people with disabilities need for basic essentials and what they get.

The last word belongs to InclusionBC

The Minister is correct when he says, “The measure of any society is reflected in the degree to which it is willing to help the most vulnerable and create the kind of supports that will truly make a difference in their lives” (budget speech). By this measure, BC is failing our most vulnerable.

Friends, you can make a difference by signing the petition here to restore the $45/year bus pass and raise the PWD benefit rate.

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