MLA calls for COVID benefits to be reinstated

Peace River North MLA Dan Davies is calling on the NDP to fully reinstate a supplemental COVID benefit for those living on income and disability assistance.

In a release, Davies says Wednesday marks the first day that persons with disabilities will see their COVID income and disability payments cut in half, from $300 per month to $150.

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“Despite John Horgan’s insistence that persons with disabilities would not see cuts to the vital supports they depend on, the grim reality of this poorly-planned benefit is now coming to the surface,” said Davies, the Opposition critic for social development and poverty reduction, in a statement.

“Today — on the first day that thousands of individuals and families will see their income assistance cheques cut in half — these backlogs are going to affect the most vulnerable members of our communities the hardest.”

Davies first raised his concerns about the cuts in the legislature in December.

Social Development Minister Nicholas Simons responded by saying those on income or disability assistance would end up receiving more with both the supplement and the recovery benefit launched before Christmas.

But, as the CBC reported, that increase only amounts to $50.

The government meanwhile has approved more than one million applications and $682 million in COVID benefit payouts. Nearly half a million applications have been flagged for review.

In Fort St. John, one resident said he’s been waiting for more than a month for his recovery benefit payment after applying on the first day the program opened on Dec. 18.

“Is this program even still working, and why do so many of us, especially on disability, old age pension, or income assistance, appear to be left to the bottom of the pile?" Dennis Hetman wrote in a letter to Alaska Highway News.

After filing his application, Hetman says he was asked two days later to provide two bills with his address, two pieces of identification, and his tax return to support his application, which he did.

After several calls and emails to the government for an update over the last month, he only received a form letter response from the premier’s office Tuesday, after his concerns were published.

The letter said the ministry of finance was conducting a manual review and needed the extra documents to confirm his eligibility. It gave no timeline on when he could expect to receive his benefit.

Hetman said the payment clawbacks and delays weren't fair.

“I have lived in the Peace all my life and now am watching many small businesses closing forever, jobs are being affected as the pandemic rages on. I don't feel my classification should have to add stress to all of this,” he wrote. “Bills still come monthly but government support has dropped to nothing.”

Davies says he has heard from many in similar positions.

“With hundreds of thousands or even millions of applications still being processed, it could be weeks or even months until persons with disabilities will see this one-time cheque,” Davies stated. “It is time for John Horgan to admit he made a mistake and fully reinstate the $300 monthly COVID Disability and Income Assistance supplement his NDP government took away from vulnerable people.”

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca. 

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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