The following is an exchange in the Legislature between Peace River North MLA Dan Davies and Premier John Horgan regarding the supplemental COVID benefit for those living on income and disability assistance, Monday, March 15, 2021.
MLA DAVIES: "The pandemic has been a very stressful time for British Columbians. As the Premier has pointed out: "It's a pandemic, dude." Well, in the middle of this pandemic, the Premier has heartlessly chosen to cut $300 a month from those who need it the most: people living with disabilities and low-income seniors.
"It was the Premier who made this as complicated as possible for people to apply for the COVID benefit. It's the Premier who is making them wait and stressing them out as he delays support. "I'm just one voice" doesn't cut it. These people deserve an honest answer from the Premier. In fact, this week there is a group of advocates that are going to be hosting an online rally.
"Will the Premier restore the $300 that he cut from seniors and those living with disabilities?"
PREM. HORGAN: "I thank the member for the question. He's got the facts, though, a bit wrong. We didn't cut the program; we created the program. We put $300 in people's pockets. After a decade of no increases to income assistance, what did we do? We increased income assistance. The emergency benefit that was to be for three months and then for six months went to be nine months. We made it $150, and we made it so easy for the $1,000 benefit that everybody got it automatically.
"So if the honourable member from way the heck over there wants to stand up and talk about the vulnerable in his community, do some history, man. You did nothing for a decade."
The provincial government provided a temporary $300 COVID-19 crisis supplement from April to December of last year, followed by a recovery supplement of $150 per month from January to March.
On Tuesday, the government announced income and disability assistance rates would be raised by $175 per month starting in April. Under those new rates, a single person on income assistance will receive $935 per month and a single person on disability assistance will receive about $1,358 per month.
The new rate increases will amount to about $400 million annually.
"Now that we've seen some signs of economic recovery from COVID-19, it's essential that we provide some stability for people and families, including 49,000 children who are living in poverty,” said Nicholas Simons, the minister of social development and poverty reduction.
MLA Davies, the Opposition social development and poverty reduction critic, said he has a petition signed by more than 11,000 people demanding the government reinstate its $300 monthly COVID-19 funding for people on low income and those who are disabled.
They want Premier John Horgan to end the "clawback," Davies said.
"People on disability assistance and low-income seniors are worried and they're angry," Davies said.
The following is an edited exchange in the Legislature between MLA Davies and Minister Simon, Tuesday, March 16, 2021:
MLA DAVIES: "It is hard to believe that this government has decided to make it harder for those with disabilities to make it through this pandemic. The coalition 300 to live is hosting a rally, in fact, this week to protest this government's cuts. This is what they have to say: "The recent slashing of the supplement…has not gone unnoticed. The possibility of the supplement being cut altogether is devastating." Will the Premier stand up today and end this clawback?"
MIN. SIMONS: "The member well knows that in March of 2020, as we entered into this difficult phase, into the COVID-19 pandemic, the government responded quickly and nimbly by providing assistance to people on income and disability assistance, as well as seniors and low-income. I'm really pleased to stay that we were able to provide that support for nine months, in fact.
"In fact, when we introduced the COVID recovery benefit, we made that applicable to everybody in British Columbia making under $125,000 a year. I would say to the member opposite that we continue to work to ensure that our TogetherBC poverty reduction strategy is on target. Unlike the previous government, which rejected repeated efforts on the part of the opposition at that time to institute a poverty reduction strategy, we did institute a poverty reduction strategy, something they failed to do.
"I would just say to the member opposite that we will continue to speak for people who live in poverty. We will continue to work to ensure that everyone comes through this pandemic more resilient and more able to meet the challenges of the future."
MLA DAVIES: "What I'd like to do is encourage this government to take accountability for the cuts that they've made to disabilities recently. You know, this minister should be actually paying attention to the voices of the people on disability assistance and low-income seniors, instead of trying to dodge the accountability that we're seeing right now. He is the one who is cutting the supplement to families. The minister is the one who's cutting for low-income seniors. You can't spin this any other way. Mr. Speaker, 11,284 British Columbians have signed a petition for the Premier to end this clawback. People on disability assistance and low-income seniors are worried, and they're angry. In two weeks, the supplement is going to be eliminated. Will the minister stand up today and reinstate the cut?"
MIN. SIMONS: "The social assistance rates under the previous government went up about $100 in about 12 years. The first thing we did when we were elected in 2017 was increase the rates by $100. Then we further increased them by $50. I would suggest to the member opposite that our government is well on track with a number of initiatives that we've taken to reduce poverty, from child care subsidies to building homes, doing all sorts of things that have actually helped us achieve the poverty reduction strategy goals. I think we're going to continue to do that. I'm proud to be able to say that our government takes these issues seriously, unlike the previous government."
— with files from the Canadian Press
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