MADAM CHAIR: Good evening. I think we will get started.
I would like to welcome people and thank you for coming out tonight to meet with the Standing Committee on Community Services. My name is Maureen MacDonald and I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and the Chairperson of this committee. We have been going around the province now for quite a number of weeks. I guess we started in September and we have been in Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, Guysborough, Stellarton, Yarmouth and Bridgewater. This is the first evening that we have been in a community while the House is in session, so most of us were in the Legislature for a few hours today and have driven down here this evening to hear from people on social assistance reform. It is very nice to be here in the Valley.
The process that we have been using as we go around the province is that, first of all, we have the members of the committee introduce themselves and we have a roster of people who have called in advance indicating that they would like to talk to us. Some groups and individuals come and they have prepared written briefs and they feel comfortable reading from those written briefs and that is fine; other groups have written briefs and they don't want to read them verbatim, they just want to sort of summarize them and maybe talk about some particular concerns that they have addressed in their briefs and that is fine as well; and then other groups and individuals just want to come forward and talk without a written brief and that is equally as fine.
After each presentation - and we ask people to try to present their presentations so that everybody can get on in a timely manner and we can be out of here before midnight, let's say - we use a process where members of the committee then ask questions or make comments about the presentations, ask for clarification or things like this. We try to keep the process as informal as we can in this kind of a session. All of the proceedings are recorded; we have the folks from Legislative Television who are here recording the discussion tonight and the presentations, and that essentially is our process.
I would like to start first with the introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: The first presenter we have tonight is Garth Hazel. Mr. Hazel.
MR. GARTH HAZEL: Madam Chair and committee members, ladies and gentlemen, before I start my presentation, I was informed that 10 minutes would be the limit of my presentation so the presentation you have in front of you is limited to that amount of time. There are a couple of errors that I noted just reading it now, and I will correct them as I go along, and I will comment as I go along too.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation on behalf of a number of people who have contacted me over a number of years regarding the policy guidelines and implementation of social programs at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. I was a municipal councillor at West Hants for 25 years, deciding five years ago not to re-offer. I have chaired the Social Services Committee and sat on the board of Family and Children Services of West Hants.
One of the most frustrating things, over these years, and since then, has been the lack of understanding and interest of the general public and government in Community Services programs. These people, in most cases, through no fault of their own are put in a position of having to apply to government of all levels for help. Under government policies, each and every level is different. The Nova Scotia provincial government's Community Services Department, the government that is in power now has in the past years tried to initiate a new policy, to have a level playing field all across the province, but it is still a Third World Country standard of living.
Let's take few examples. A person who has cerebral palsy since birth, and who is with me here tonight, unable to work, and who has had a number of operations, he was receiving a disability in the amount of $725 a month from Community Services. Two years ago, he met a special lady who was prepared to accept him as a person, to love and to marry, prepared to accept what happened to him in the future. One month after the wedding, he was informed that if she worked, he must claim 75 per cent of her gross salary and it be deducted from his pension. At this time, he receives $314 a month. His total gross income has been less than
$800 a month. Looking at the cost of living and his medical expenses, he is making less than what his income was before he was married. This policy is also there for all Community Services recipients if their spouse works.
Second example: a mother whose husband leaves her with three children, a devastating experience. After a number of years in court, trying to get support, deciding she must find work, obtains a part-time job, hoping to have a few pennies to help supplement her social benefits, only to find out this also must be deducted.
Another: a single mother with one child out of wedlock, applied for help. She is informed that if she is living at home, she cannot get it, but if she would live on her own, they would assist her. Note the new policy will help if she is in school.
In the first two examples, I feel there should be a net income set for the size of the family, which they would be allowed to receive before deductions, after taking from their benefits. Under the new policy, there is a bit more leeway, but not near enough.
Let us look at the cost of a month period for a family of three. I base this from personal experience over the past number of years and it is a conservative figure. I have listed them there and it comes out to $1,120 a month. This example does not allow for incidentals, travel, registration for sports, movies, a supper out or anything like that; it is the bare minimum. I feel that a minimum of $14,000 a year should be allowed. For a single mother who could live at home and have the understanding of parents and the opportunity to further her education, she should be allowed a reasonable expense of $300 a month.
I can hear the critics saying: I don't make that income. I am not saying guaranteeing this amount; I am saying allow these people the opportunity to supplement their income up to this amount so they can get back into the workforce and not as it is now, that you work and you are punished.
Now I would like to address the social workers problem. Because of the cutbacks over the years, the workload is so great they are unable to properly investigate all the applicants. Proper monitoring of all programs, Family Benefits, Family Planning, et cetera, could greatly assist many families in their daily lives. There are a number of social workers trained in many fields with Masters of Social Work and Bachelor of Social Work degrees, doing nothing but pushing paper and unable to counsel and help the people they are trained to help. Let's take the initiative to end poverty and show we do truly care.
To the critics, let's first ask ourselves: Have we ever been in this position? How many of you sitting here tonight can honestly say that, yes, you have been in that position and you know exactly what it is like?
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: I have two children that are, a male and female, one each.
MR. HAZEL: That is good. I haven't, but I have seen it. I have tried and did what little I could to help. If I am frustrated, how must those who are in these positions feel? A final note since I have written most of these notes. A young person has taken their life because of these problems and God still loves them.
To comment on a few of the things that I have said here - I believe I have a few more minutes - there are not only these people who are in this position now, but the working poor, the senior citizens with their incomes are now being put into the position that they cannot afford to live either. There has to be something done. The government that is here, who have been in power, have tried to come up with a policy and they should be congratulated for that. I know things are tough and, yes, you have raised two children. I have raised five and I know what it is like. Without a garden, without raising my own pork and beef, I wouldn't have been able to do it, but how many people who are in this position have the property, the money and the income to do what I could do?
I did not have a large income and I can remember when I first started work in 1958, my take-home pay was $27.50 a week. My take-home pay now is greatly more than that and I am not afraid to say that I take home $900.20, as I got today in my pay, for two weeks work, which isn't a lot of money, but I am sure there are a lot of people out there today in this province who would love to be taking home the pay I am taking home, and I find it tough and there is just me and my wife home now.
I must say I thank you very much for giving me the opportunity of saying a few words and I appreciate it. If there are any questions, I will try to answer them.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you for coming. Are there any questions?
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Hazel, I, like yourself, have served on local municipal government for a number of years. I fully understand the number of issues that must have come to you with respect to Community Services concerns. I want to go to Page 2 of your presentation where you say that you feel there ought to be a minimum of $14,000 a year for a single person. I am wondering if you have given any thought to the notion of a guaranteed annual income. I remember a few years back, and we have had presenters at this standing committee, make comment to that, and my question number one is, have you given any consideration to a guaranteed annual income?
MR. HAZEL: The way this is typed, I want to correct that. This is the way it should read: "I feel that a minimum of $14,000 a year should be allowed. For a single mother who could live at home, $300."
So when I am talking about the $14,000, I am talking about $14,000 for these people who are on family benefits, if it is a mother and three kids or a disabled person and his wife, that if they are getting $700 a month, which would give them possibly $9,000 a year, that they
be allowed to work and make up the maximum to $14,000 before any deduction is taken off. In other words, the government could say all we can give you is $900 a month, but we will allow you to have a part-time job or a job at minimum wage and you can make up to a maximum of this before the deduction is taken off your benefits, so it would be similar to a guaranteed income.
MR. PYE: Yes, and I understand your concern with the allotment paid to Community Services recipients not being sufficient to cover their particular needs. Also, I want to make you aware - and as other colleagues who serve on the Standing Committee on Community Services will let you know as well - that the Deputy Minister, Mr. L'Esperance, in his conversation to us said that they were going to hire additional caseworkers to take the burden of the caseload away from both those who are short-term caseworkers, the IAP, the Income Assistance Program, and those on family benefits as well. So we are certainly looking forward to that.
Finally, I just want to thank you very much for your presentation this evening.
MADAM CHAIR: There are a few more questions but, before we move to the next question, I would just like to welcome and acknowledge the Minister of Education, Mr. Robbie Harrison, who has joined us. Thank you very much for coming this evening.
MR. JAMES MUIR: I have one question, Madam Chair, about something Jerry just touched on. You are saying that there were a lot of MSWs and BSWs pushing paper. Are you indicating that you feel that staff in the Community Services' office could be better used?
MR. HAZEL: Yes, I am. I am saying that people who have the training, who should be in the field doing what they are trained to do are now sitting in offices pushing paper because of the bureaucracy that is there. Applications and investigation, some of that is not being carried out like they should. If you would take the time to talk to some of these social workers, and they are dedicated people, I disagree with them at times, but they are dedicated people, you will find that this is what it is, the paperwork is just phenomenal.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: I have just one question. You talked about a single parent living at home with $300 - were you talking about somebody living with their family - as an allowable expense?
MR. HAZEL: Yes, what I am saying it that a single person living at home with a daughter who becomes pregnant or a single person becomes pregnant, she wants to live at home and raise her child. I feel she should be given an allowance of $300, and be able to do that with the love and care of her parents. In instances that I dealt with, they have either been led to believe or told that there was no assistance available, that if they were out on their own, we could support you, give you rent money and x number of dollars a month to live on your own, but if you live with your parents, then we feel the parents should be supporting you.
You know as well as I do, there are a number of families that are having difficulty. If they could get $300 a month to help that child, so that she can go back and get her education and get back into the workforce - the love at home, the love you get at home is not the same love that you would get out living by yourself - I think that would certainly help.
I know under the new program that has just come out in the past six months, there is something in there that says if she is going to school then she can be supported. That is there. I will tell you, that is a plus, there is no question, and the government should be congratulated for that, but I still don't think it is enough.
MR. GORDON BALSER: If you could give the committee just one item - you have touched on a number of areas of concern - if there was one message that you wanted us to take away as a committee and include in our recommendations, what would it be? What would be the most critical area?
MR. HAZEL: Given these people are forced into the situation they are in, a decent income for them to survive. Allow them that opportunity. It is not being allowed now. As I said before, it is not being allowed.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Thank you.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I just wanted to follow up, I guess, on what we are talking about, the single girl living at home. I worked with a great number of cases over the years as well. I may be wrong at the present time, but my understanding was that there is room and board available or some allowance available, for that girl living at home with a child.
MR. HAZEL: There is now. Under the new program, there is some.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Yes. You are talking about $300 over and above that, is it?
MR. HAZEL: No. I am talking about $300 being allowed, because I think now some are getting much less than $300 and living at home. That is what I am thinking of.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Okay. That it be brought up to $300?
MR. HAZEL: To $300, yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: That is all. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further questions or comments from members of the committee?
MR. MACEWAN: I just wanted to say that I want to support what you said, Mr. Hazel. I think you have touched on some very valid points here. If each witness that comes forward is asked 20 questions by each of the people around this table, we won't be able to hear all the people who want to come but, certainly, I think you have made a very good submission here, sir. Very good.
MR. HAZEL: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Our next presenter is Mr. Bill Coleman.
MR. BILL COLEMAN: Good evening everybody. I am happy to be here to meet you fellows. It has been a long time since I was going to talk, I am kind of shaking a little bit because I am not a very well man. What I am going to talk about is the social services here in Nova Scotia.
I haven't been able to work for 20 years, through no fault of my own. I get a little over $600 a month. My mortgage payment is $350, my light bills - here they are - the other day they were going to cut me off, it's electric heat. I go to Community Services and they say, well, there is only so much money, we can't do this and can't do that. Then the Nova Scotia Power will say, hey, go to the Salvation Army. You go to the Salvation Army, they say we can't do nothing until you are cut off. If they cut you off, there's a penalty, and tomorrow they were going to cut me off because the bills I have here are not good.
As I said, I pay $350 for mortgage, then my telephone, and I don't have very much money. Now, since the Government of Nova Scotia came in in 1993 - I used to get help from the Conservative side for my diabetes - no more money. They took that away from me. I will go to my doctor, he will write out prescriptions for me, but I have no money for the special things I am supposed to have.
What do they want a person to do? Sleep outdoors. I have slept outdoors before in my lifetime. It is a hard feeling. Also, another thing I am going to hit on too, these single parent mothers. I have a daughter who is a single parent mother, she has two children. One child was taken away from her, by no fault of his own. He pretty near never made it. But these drifters coming in and taking advantage of them. Department of Justice and Social Services took the child out of there. The child pretty near died. He was with me for a few years, but he got into a little trouble, so now he is with his grandmother. She can't even get one cent for that child. By the time the family allowance was changed over, it was about five or six months. She works part-time, a little bit.
She went to Community Services but they said no, you can't get any money. How do they expect a 16 year old child to go to Horton School down there where they have the luxury, where they laugh at her because she doesn't have the money every day to buy the food, how are you going to buy the clothes? Then they wonder why the young people in this country get into crime. There is nothing out there for them.
I know, I was in the army. I did my time in the Armed Forces and lots of things. It makes me really very mad. The same as soup kitchens. I go to soup kitchens. I have gone to the church up here for handouts and to the Salvation Army. You see people going into Berwick, I live in the Waterville area, people going in there and the little kids, you can hear their stomaches rolling and then crying. You can only go every six weeks. It is the worst feeling I have had in my life. I have travelled across this country. I have been poor, but I don't how much more I can take. I live on about $72 a month. As I say, I have the bills here. They said they were going to cut off my power; maybe tomorrow they will. I will have a woodstove in if I have to stick it out through the window.
When I grew up, there was 10 of us, flour porridge and everything, but we never lived in the conditions we live under today. No, it makes you really sad. You really want to cry when there are children out there going to bed, starving to death. I know there is nothing to eat. By the time they pay the mortgage companies and these landlords, they have nothing left. It is really sad.
Then the government will step forward and give all these big corporations all this money. Same as Fidel Castro. When anybody talks about Fidel Castro it makes my blood really boil. I was going to fight Fidel Castro one time when I was in the Armed Forces. They went down there and gave him all this money. Today, we need a leadership in this country, and very, very bad. If we don't, we are going to be like a little mouse backed in the corner, and when you are backed into a corner, well I am telling you, she is going to be rough.
I can't say very much. I just wish and pray to God, same as Mr. Hazel - I think he was up here before, it would be very nice if the government, whatever government comes into power, will step forward and have the guts enough to give the disabled people enough to live on, not starve us to death. Don't give all the money to other countries, Canadians should be the top priority. We give our country away; our fish is gone; our wood is gone. What else do we have? The next thing will be water. We will have nothing. Nothing makes nothing.
I don't know if I will have any power tomorrow or not. It makes me very angry, very angry, but I am not a violent person. I don't like the way the social assistance is run. No. I know of other people out there too, they live with these single parent mothers. Live in and work full time. Community Services doesn't do anything about it. Not all, most of them, 99 per cent of them, young single parent mothers or men, they have it rough, but there is the odd
one does it and gets away with it. When I was able to work, I had to support my three children. We had nothing. The gentleman that was here before, he said he only had $27 a week to live on. When I first started to work, I got $9.00 a week to live on, and I had to sleep outdoors. I could tell a lot more too; a lot more, but I guess that is all I have to say.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. I think that members of the committee recognize that probably there is some abuse in most programs. Your points are well taken.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Thank you very much, Mr. Coleman. I have known Bill for a number of years. Bill, you are a diabetic along with some other disabilities and . . .
MR. COLEMAN: Right.
MR. MOODY: . . . at one point, you were given a food allowance for special foods, but now you are not able to afford any of the special foods?
MR. COLEMAN: No. See I am a diabetic, and I had three operations. When the Conservative Government was in power, I used to get help, but when the Liberal Government come in power, they took it right away from me.
MR. MOODY: How much a month was the amount they gave you?
MR. COLEMAN: I think there was about $30-some a month at that time for special needs and now I have to go and get all my bottom teeth out and things like that, but I hope the Community Services will pay for it. Mr. Ferris told me the angles to go and he seems to be a very fine gentleman. He has helped me, but I just wished it would be enough money so we shouldn't have to, in this country of ours, go to soup kitchens; we shouldn't have to go for handouts all the time. Sometimes you feel like you are just nothing. It puts me in mind of when I used to go to school, years ago, and we used to have to eat wheat-flour porridge and things like that, but those days I think were better than today. In those days you had one pair of pants.
Talk about hard times, I know what hard times are. I have slept outdoors lots of times, but today I have my little house there in Waterville. I am just hanging on by a thread. I put my house up for sale but I hope I don't ever have to sell it. It is not paid for. Community Services will say, well, we can only give you this much money. I think it is $672 or something like that to live on and I drive an old 1978 Ford car. A social worker come in one day and they were driving about a $30,000 car. He said, Bill, how much is your car worth, and I said maybe $500. Must be great.
I was nothing, but I'll let you know what a fellow told me one time. Bill, I'm just as good as you fellows, maybe I'm a lot better because they are crooked. Just the same as one time this person was so crooked and he went in to make plans for his funeral. They said we
can't bury you, you're so crooked. So maybe that is what is wrong with this country. We got too many crooked crooks in there. That is all I have to say, and I will let somebody else do the talking.
MR. PYE: I just want to ask you one question about your power bill. Now I know that you indicated that the power corporation has given you notice that they are going to cut your power and that power is going to be cut tomorrow. I guess what I am going to ask you is you indicated that you have electric heat and having electric heat, then you must be on a payment plan with the power corporation, so you have become delinquent in your payment plan, have you, because you couldn't afford to pay it?
MR. COLEMAN: I couldn't afford to pay it because I had to rob Peter to pay Paul. My mortgage. I pretty near lost my house this summer, but in the process I am trying to get a woodstove and a chimney put in my house.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, this is none of my business, but I am going to ask anyway. Can I ask you how much your account is delinquent?
MR. COLEMAN: Yes. I hate to take up your time, but I have it here somewhere.
MR. PYE: The reason why I ask that, Madam Chair, while he is searching it out, is that quite often the power corporation allows the delinquent account to go - and I'm being critical of the power corporation - for such a period of time whereby it is virtually impossible to pay it back, and then the individual gets caught and so does the Community Services Department and it is out of the reach of everyone in order to come to a reasonable solution to the problem.
MR. COLEMAN: Yes, but I often wonder why the power company would tell me to say go to the Salvation Army. So you call the Salvation Army up and they say they cannot help you.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: I am just wondering, Bill, you mentioned that you had received some years ago $30 a month for your special needs. What would you estimate today that you would need for special needs?
MR. COLEMAN: For the diabetes? Well, I need special stockings for my feet and I also need the machine to check your blood and urine and things like that every day. Also, another thing now, it has got so I can't follow my diet. It is impossible. The doctor has written me out diet after diet, and the dietician, and I got proof. There is no way I can follow my diet. So they talk about all this money for health care. If they would give a person enough money through Community Services, maybe all this money wouldn't have to go into the health care, we would be healthier. How are you going to live on $70-some a month and follow your diet
if you are diabetic? You just live, you got one foot in the grave and the other one is chasing it. What are they going to do? Wait until we all die?
A lot of people fought for this country. It is about time the politicians in this country woke up and smelled the roses before it is too late.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Just one question, Bill, if I may. You had indicated that you are trying to get a chimney and stove in your house. Have you applied to the Housing Commission?
MR. COLEMAN: Yes, I have.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: You have an application in on that side, do you?
MR. COLEMAN: Yes, I have talked to Mr. Bennet and Mr. Hatt. No money. So last week I went to a finance company and the thing is still in progress. Whether I get the money, I don't know. If I do get the money, I don't know how I am going to pay it back because it would take about three or four cords of wood a year to heat my little house. Well, George, you know my little house. There is a house just next to me there and their power bill is really low. As I say, I went to the finance company. Had to go to the finance company, right down here in New Minas. They would lend me the money, but I don't know how I am going to pay them back. The house will be taken away and I will be out sleeping on the side of the road. It wouldn't be the first time I slept in cars on the side of the road while somebody else has everything. I wonder how a lot of people sleep at night. They have all the money, but they can't take the money in the grave when they go.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions for Mr. Coleman?
Thank you very much, Mr. Coleman.
MR. COLEMAN: Thank you and I appreciate it very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is from the Schizophrenia Association.
MS. ALMA GIFFIN: I will introduce myself. I am President of the Nova Scotia Schizophrenia Society, the Kentville Chapter, Alma Giffin.
MR. LEROY LENETHEN: I am Leroy Lenethen, a member of the Kentville branch.
MS. PAT MACLEAN: I am Pat MacLean, also a member of the Kentville branch.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Hello and welcome.
MR. LENETHEN: We have prepared a written submission and we have circulated copies. The main thrust of the first part of the submission is to let you know we have read the focus paper and in our presentation we have tried to address the seven points that were raised, along with the eighth issue, which is that concerning youth. One of the things that we really wanted to do was to make sure that the special interest group that we represent is recognized by your group as being, for the most case, recipients of certainly health services, but most often also social assistance family benefits. It is simply the nature of the illness.
We spent considerable time in the early part of our paper - the first number of pages - trying to outline exactly what schizophrenia is and why some special consideration must be given when social assistance benefits are being considered and when changes in policy are being considered. It really is a medical illness, and one of the key things that we believe is that there has to be coordination and integration between the Department of Health and the Department of Community Services. When you are dealing with anybody who has a disability, whether it is a physical or a mental disability, if you have people working at cross purposes or if you have duplication of services, money is being wasted and is not being made productive.
A person who is diagnosed with schizophrenia is not going to be able to work without a considerable amount of medical treatment and, in this day and age, very expensive medication. Some of the more current medication at a modest level of dosage is costing just in excess of $250 per month and that's whether you're 13 or 14 years old and have to take it, or whether you're 50 or 60 years old. That new medication, which would give you the most benefit, is very expensive. It works out to $8.00 or $10 a pill as opposed to the old medication which had a lot of very serious side effects that you could pick up for perhaps 5 cents or 6 cents a pill.
There has to be integration between the Health Department and Community Services if people who suffer from this illness, from this disease, are going to receive treatment so that they have any chance at all of coming back into society.
The second major point we want to make is that this is a very disabling disease and it has been stated more than one time that it is the most significant disabler of young people. It is one of the few diseases that statistically, historically, will manifest itself to people at very young ages. The statistical population, whether it is in Kentville, whether it is in Nova Scotia, whether it is in North America, or whether it is throughout the world, it doesn't matter what stratum of society you come from, it doesn't matter how much money you have, but a male person is going to most likely experience symptoms in the 14 to 25 year age range; a female is more likely to experience it in the 25 to 35 year age range.
There are differences. There are 10 and 12 year old children that have been diagnosed. My daughter, who is 23, probably has been suffering since 17 or 18, so she fits more within the male model and there are males who don't get diagnosed until later on, but you're at the
most vulnerable, you are in high school, you are in university, you're just starting your first job, you have just started a family or your family is just growing up, or you've just left a job to raise a family when these symptoms occur.
One of the consumers, as we call them, would be a client of Community Services, last week told us that when his illness was diagnosed, he said it is like taking the limb of a tree and taking your hand and just stripping the leaves off. He said: I lost my job; I lost my house; I lost my bank account; my assets; I lost my family; I lost my dignity; I lost every initiative I had. He said: I am just slowly now coming back; I need help in getting back to work; I have a good education; I had a good responsible job; I had a good family; and I was a good productive member of society. I have medication. I have very significant expensive needs in medication, but I also need help in re-establishing myself and, if I can re-establish myself, then I can be productive again.
There has to be, like with any disability, if it was so easy as a broken leg and it is fixed and then you're back at work, it is like a lot of seriously disabling injuries, there is no cure as yet. There is always hope, but there is treatment. The statistics are perhaps one-third will never return to a significant level of functioning, perhaps one-third will recover some degree of functioning, be able to carry on some degree of independence and some degree of work so that they can be productive and retain their dignity. There is another one-third that, hopefully, will be able, with medication and compliance, to return to be a fully productive member of society, but the difficulty with the youth is that it hits you when you, a lot of times, don't have any skills or you've left the only job you had and you don't have any health benefits, you don't have any disability benefits from work.
Most families with young people, you can't get medical benefits from Community Services. The only way you can get your expensive medication covered is if you go on full family benefits and in order to do that you've got to go out and show that you have no income and put yourself in abject poverty and then apply.
So most often when young people are affected this way, the families give the support and are the main caregivers, are the social workers, because they don't have access to the system. You can't get in the system unless you first put yourself out to sleep in the car and then you can come in, so there needs to be recognition of that fact. Schizophrenia will affect 1 in 100 people, again whether it is in Kentville, whether it is in Nova Scotia, whether it is throughout the world, 1 in 100 people will suffer those symptoms. The symptoms are devastating. Your suicide rate, you and I will have a suicide risk of 1 in 10,000; the schizophrenic, 1 in 10. Those are simple statistics.
Part of the concern in a rural area such as this is getting the provision of services. If you need housing, it is very difficult to find housing other than in a central area or it is difficult to find housing of a nature where you can be independent. If you happen to find housing in a rural area, you have the difficulty of transportation. Without transportation you can't get
to Community Services. You can't get to your medical appointments. You can't get to the hospital. You can't get in to buy your medication. I think $17 or $18 is your monthly allowance on family benefits. Maybe it is okay if you've got the metro transit system and you live in a relatively cheap apartment, but it really doesn't cut it in a rural area, your transportation costs are so high.
That leads to one of the areas that your group study addressed and that's the area of community support, community services. One of those areas, just an example, I don't know if Mike Henri is here this evening, he's going to make a submission, but there is a group that has started and I will leave with you a brochure called Alternative Transportation Services. They work with volunteers. They have employed some consumers, some people who suffer from mental illness as drivers and, in addition, they look for government funding. They are covering all Kings County. They have a paid dispatcher and they will go out and drive people from Scots Bay, will drive people down in the western end of the county, bring them to where they need to get their medication, and bring them into the Community Services people.
These are community efforts, where the bulk of the service is provided by volunteer drivers and not only do the people who can't afford the drive get access to transportation services through a group such as this, the people, the consumers, the clients, are paid to do some driving, those that are able to drive. So that's an area where, with some flexibility in a Community Services Department program, money can be put into community projects or groups like this where the confidence shown by government by supporting these groups will engender volunteers and will encourage financial support from within the community.
The difficulty with schizophrenia, as I said if you look at our paper, some of the symptoms, when the symptoms occur, you cannot work with the auditory and visual hallucinations, the delusions that are there. They simply occur as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain and it is traced to the development of the brain as you go into your early teenage years and your early adult years as the brain is developing. Without the medication you are going to have people who are going to be in expensive psychiatric hospitals like people were 50 years ago, or you're going to have people that are going to feed into your social services program on family or individual benefits and, perhaps like the previous speaker, live in relative poverty perhaps all of their lives.
Without some help, without some encouragement, without some hope, without some incentives, as we have said in our paper, it is unlikely that these people are going to get out of the system. Groups that I have gone to, groups that I have met with, after two or three sessions you find out that one of the people who is a consumer sitting across from you has been a lawyer for 10 or 15 years; somebody else was struck down with the symptoms in their third year of university; and somebody else was struck down perhaps in their third year of professorship at the university. So it strikes all walks of life.
You can just imagine what happens in a family where there is already poverty, where there is already a lack of financial resources and, if a young person in that family is involved with these symptoms, the prospects are even worse, because their needs are even greater, both medically and through your system. The biggest hope today is in the very recent, very modern medication which will quickly, with compliance, deal with what we call the positive symptoms, the hallucinations, this sort of thing, and does not have such disastrous adverse effects as some of the old medication.
Part of the difficulty is that people on medication are seen to be lazy, but that's part of the disease. They don't have initiative; they can't concentrate; they can't make a decision; they can't get up and go, but medical treatment, social services work, giving hope, giving encouragement, will bring people to the point where they will take the medication. Proper dosages will be determined and they will be able to respond to physicians as they try to maintain or get their proper dosage, and it can work.
I guess what we really want to say is that they are a special interest group. Like a lot of disabled people, they have some special needs. Flexibility is very important in the system. Having proper workers are important, as the gentleman said, the Masters of Social Work and the psychiatric nurses, people with this type of training should not be pushing paper; they need to be working with the people and with the families. It all has to happen through one system or another and a combined system; a Department of Health and Community Services makes a lot of sense to us.
Sorry, I tended to monopolize the time for my two counterparts, but we probably would like to answer questions if there are any.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Before I open the floor to questions, I just want to make one point of clarification and that's with respect to the discussion paper. The discussion paper that you referred to did not come from this group here; it is from the minister and from the department.
MR. LENETHEN: That I didn't understand. I had thought it was a background paper that was . . .
MADAM CHAIR: It is a common assumption that we're running into as we go around the province because there are two processes going on at the same time: one that's a public process, and one that is not a public process in the same way. So just for clarification then, the Department of Community Services and the minister have issued a discussion paper and a report on the focus groups. They have called, she and the department, for written submissions, so I would recommend that you get your submission to her as well.
The Standing Committee on Community Services, we're obviously an all-Party committee of the Legislature and this committee had not met since 1993. When we were reconstituted following the election, there was agreement among all members of this committee, across Parties, that we wanted to hear from people throughout Nova Scotia about the process of social assistance reform and restructuring, to hear what the problems might be and the recommendations that people would have. So that's the process and that's who we are. Are there any questions?
MR. PYE: I am just going to Page 2 of your report where you give us the definition of schizophrenia. I am going down to point four and you indicated that it affects 1 out of 100 Nova Scotians. Can I ask you, or can you tell the committee how many persons with schizophrenia live in the Kentville area or the catchment area, the surrounding area of Kentville?
MR. LENETHEN: Only statistically. I know the people that I have met through the society and through going to other meetings and workshops, but if the statistics are correct, there are probably 50 in Kentville, a population of 5,000. If we have a population of 50,000 or 60,000 in the county, then 1 in 100 should end up to be, if my math is right, 500 or 600.
MR. PYE: Do you say 50?
MR. LENETHEN: A 50,000 or 60,000 population, I think, in Kings County, so 1 in 100 would be 500 or 600.
MR. PYE: So you are assuming that there are 500 or 600 in the Kentville area?
MR. LENETHEN: No, in the Kings County area.
MR. PYE: In the Kings County area. Okay. Can I ask the question to you, Alma Giffin? You are the President of the Nova Scotia Schizophrenia Association. Do we know how many persons in Nova Scotia are suffering from schizophrenia?
MS. GIFFIN: I don't think we have that figure. I don't think we have an accurate figure on that, but the first meeting that we had at Denton Hall at Acadia, to gather people around who had an interest, we had about 275 caregivers go to that first meeting. That was just a very quick thing that was done.
MR. PYE: My final question to you. Has the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia prepared any studies with respect to the kind of cost it would take to provide for a person with schizophrenia for a one year period or for the life of the disability?
MS. GIFFIN: I don't think we have any figures on that at all.
MR. PYE: Okay. Thank you.
MR. LENETHEN: I would like to say that part of the difficulty is the medication, which can range from 5 cents or 6 cents a pill to $8.00 and $10 a pill, and one of your biggest costs is your medication.
MS. GIFFIN: My son's medication is $240 a month, that is one of the newer medications.
MR. PYE: I just wanted to make a comment that I thought there might be a general figure out there, not an accurate figure but an estimated figure that one could possibly go by to have some kind of a cost analysis with respect to what kind of costs we are looking at to provide services and programs to persons with schizophrenia.
MR. LENETHEN: The only additional costs are your medication costs and additional support services in retraining or getting back into the workforce. Other than that, your living expenses are the same as anybody else's. If you have child care, if you need transportation, if you need clothing, it would be the same as anybody else, except you have such tremendous medical costs. Like the gentleman who talked about his diabetes, there are certain additional expenses. We have said in our paper that the course of the illness is so uncertain, it is very difficult to put an average figure.
Part of the thrust of what we have to say is that you really need flexibility in dealing with Fred or Mary or whoever it is within the system. Some will not need very much, they will be living at home, and they would like to have a little bit of help with the medication; others will be on their own and will be in total need; and others will simply be long-term hospital patients just being released, who will need a tremendous amount of government assistance. It is very difficult.
MR. MUIR: In your support group, are there people who volunteer who are not either caregivers or a member of a family of somebody who has schizophrenia?
MS. GIFFIN: I think most of ours are people that have been directly affected in their family.
MR. MUIR: Second question. In your experience, is there a good communication between the Department of Health and the Department of Community Services in looking at aspects of this particular illness?
MR. LENETHEN: In my experience, no.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MR. LENETHEN: My personal experience.
MR. MOODY: I wonder, is the biggest problem the medication? Is this the biggest problem that most people face? You mentioned, Leroy, that you either have to go totally on family benefits or you get no help at all. We all know that you have to take your medication regularly obviously, or you end up in the system somewhere else, in many cases, at more expense to the system. If you don't take your medication regularly or you can't afford it, are you indicating that if there was a way to simplify the process for those who - and there is always that grey area and a lot of people do not want to go completely in family benefits - if they had some help with the medication, does that seem to be the main problem that your group sees as a stumbling block for a lot of these people?
MR. LENETHEN: It has to be the beginning because without the medication the person will not be able to be treated, will not recover to any extent. It is a disease that, once you get it, there is no way out other than through medication. So, yes, that is probably the most important starting point.
MR. MOODY: So the system, in dealing with people with schizophrenia is not flexible enough to adjust, is what you are saying, that causes a great deal of hardship in many cases, is that basically what I am hearing?
MR. LENETHEN: Yes, and then the flexibility that is needed is when the person is out at 20 years and willing and able to go to work, but only perhaps 10 or 15 or 20 hours a week, they cannot because, as Mr. Hazel says, there is no ceiling and every penny they earn pretty well comes off, or if they try full-time work and last in it for perhaps a month or two, then they have to go back through the system all over again. So once you get the medication working and once you are able to come back in, then there needs to be flexibility in bringing you back into the system, and then this is where Community Services comes in, and perhaps Health is not so important. I don't know if I am saying that right.
MR. MOODY: I understand.
MR. MONTGOMERY: What would be the most important need in terms of support services for someone with schizophrenia?
MR. LENETHEN: In my own personal experience, the greatest need is integration between Health and social services.
MS. MACLEAN: I think I would agree and there needs to be also an individualized level of support for specific needs because each individual is different, so there needs to be flexibility there, too.
MS. ATWELL: I am assuming that the general public - just by your presentation, going through it quickly - we don't know enough about the disease or how to treat it or even how to identify it. I was looking at the last page of your submission, where you talked about being a resource for government. How do you see the role of the Schizophrenia Association being able to be a resource for government in terms of being able to educate us better or to give us better ideas in terms of how to work with your association, and others like yours, for the benefit of the individual?
MR. LENETHEN: Probably the first thing is that we may not be medically trained, but we are experienced in dealing with people who are close to us. We know what the situation is. We all have had personal experiences, and that is not easy to come by in a disease that has a lot of stigma attached to it in the past. The people who are involved are generally people who know and can be a resource.
The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia educates, advocates and also acts as a bit of a counsellor in partnership programs and things of this nature. The local chapters can assist in support for parents, support for the children. Some young people go to our meetings, and some are older; that is very important. We also have liaise with government agencies such as the research that is being done through Dalhousie, the QE II and the Nova Scotia Hospital, through Dr. Lily Cappella and that group, along with all of the other caregivers. So it is a very special group of knowledge that exists, and the participants in these groups. If somebody wanted to know about it, we can tell you what it is like and most parents and most consumers would be more than happy to be resource people and talk about things that are needed, whether it is at a local level and dealing with local workers or at a greater level. We just simply think that we are a resource that is rarely tapped.
The disease itself, the last four days there has been a one-half hour with Avril Benoit on This Morning; today she dealt with medication - and I usually pick them up in the evening - but CBC has picked it up because of what is going on in Ontario where there is a very hectic debate in the provincial Legislature about forced treatment, forced medication, or requirements, or conditional treatment where you do not get benefits until you are on medication, until you take your medication. So things are happening and we would like to help if we can.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you, very much.
MR. LENETHEN: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenters are from the Annapolis Valley-Hants Community Action Program for Children and the Cape Breton Family Place Resource Centre. Pauline Raven and Joanna La Tulippe-Rochon.
MS. PAULINE RAVEN: We would like to extend our regrets on behalf of the staff at the Cape Breton Family Place Resource Centre; they were unable to travel to the Valley. They joined with us in doing this brief because the presentation in Cape Breton was very early in the process and they weren't able to get themselves prepared in time, so we have collaborated on this brief.
By way of clarification. Much of what we have to say is not about the discussion paper, but it is about a direction charted for the restructuring of Nova Scotia Social Assistance Programs and in a draft document called Social Assistance and Employment Support Policy that Community Services has drafted. So that was where our focus was in looking at that policy and trying to bring some analyses and clarification to that from a particular perspective.
I would like to begin by telling you a little bit about our family resource project and Cape Breton's. We are both funded through two federal funding streams: the Community Action Program for Children, and the Canada Pre-Natal Nutrition Program. We are one of 13 projects in Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton is another, so there are 11 other projects besides ourselves.
MR. MUIR: Who funds you did you say?
MS. RAVEN: We are funded through two Health Canada funding streams, so we are federally funded through the Health Department. In Nova Scotia these two funding streams contribute $2.61 million annually to family resource programs. There are hundreds across Canada and 40 in Atlantic Canada. We are mandated to serve children ages birth to 6 years and we are mandated to serve families that are dealing with very low income challenges who are living in very low income circumstances, so we certainly see a lot of women and children who are very dependent on social assistance programs. We drew on our experiences with them to comment on the drafted policies.
We offer family-focused programs, parent-focused programs and child-focused programs. We have been heavily evaluated both regionally and locally and we seem to be doing okay to this point, maybe even a little better than okay; we are very proud of the work that we are doing. We did participate in the focus group initiatives in 1997 and since that time our front-line outreach and advocacy work has allowed us to observe both the real and potential impacts of the work that has gone on, and the chart of directions that are just starting now to be put into practice.
We are focusing on the fact that, historically, the financial assistance to the single women we work with have come through the Family Benefits Program. Now it is going to be coming through a program it seems, through something called Social Assistance and Employment Support policies, so it is very much linked to employment support.
I think it is very important that our link to Health Canada and federal programs has prompted us to keep a very close eye on what has been going on with federal/provincial discussions and negotiations and agreements and disagreements and all of that kind of stuff, and sometimes we feel very much caught at the crux of what is going on and what is being decided in meetings that we are not privy to. The community is not at the table and we are getting very little in the way of documents and solid information that we can look at and comment on, but we are keeping a close eye on that.
One of the things that we think is affecting what is going on is government's attitude in general towards individuals who are in the lowest socio-economic brackets. There is an attitude thing going on that we are keeping an eye on. We also think that there is a particular attitude towards community and community organizations. There is this framework that we are looking at, and we feel that Canada's poorest Canadians are being watched ever more closely, and that there is this shifting in relationships between governments and community organizations.
We want to urge the committee to look at these things, to put that in your mandate, the bigger picture and ideas, because we think that different directions need to be charted. One of the things that needs to be looked at very closely is Canada's strategies and provincial strategies toward child poverty. We know that Nova Scotia has the second highest rate of child poverty among all of Canada's 10 provinces; there is only Saskatchewan ahead of us. On this indicator that is nothing to be very proud of, that we have the second highest rate of child poverty.
Interestingly, the other three Atlantic Provinces have the lowest rates, along with B.C. They are doing much better than Nova Scotia on this issue. I am sure you have all heard the statistics, one in five children living in poverty; it is a little higher in Nova Scotia. The other interesting statistic, that has been coming out since 1996, is that the risk of poverty is lessening somewhat for children living in two-parent families and it is getting worse for children living in families headed by a single female; it is getting significantly worse. The depth of poverty is really getting deeper and deeper for families headed by single women.
We need to look at making substantial improvements in income. That should be our key goal in restructuring our social assistance programs. When we look through the document, the Social Assistance and Employment Support Policy document, we see a trend in that document and it makes us think, when we look at employment support for people on social assistance, are we really looking at work fair strategies or are we looking at real ways to improve the socio-economic status of Nova Scotians? The work fare mentality is strongly in this document.
Regardless of people's reason for approaching the government for assistance, the key thing is referral to employment services, to make sure that people get back to work as expediently as possible. There are certainly good things to be said about people working but,
on close inspection, what we are looking at is people going to work at low-wage paying jobs. There is very little in this document that will help people attain the kind of training or skills that would situate them to apply for employment that would give them even $8, $9, $10 an hour. We are looking at moving people from our social assistance rolls into very low-wage jobs.
In our old system, the system that is being replaced by this system, or this system is poised to replace, post-secondary education was available to women who were on social assistance. They could be on social assistance and have student loans and work their way through a university education. We all know that post-secondary education is the most sure-fire way we know to place ourselves in an income bracket that will allow us to be independent and to be self-reliant.
We did some calculations and it would seem that one would need to work full time, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for a $9.00 per hour rate to get off poverty. If you are a single woman with a child, that would be the minimum amount that you could work for that would get you and your child up to the low-income poverty cut-off. At $9.00 an hour, you would have an annual surplus of $349 and that includes your GST rebate, it includes everything that would be available to you. The other thing about that is that when we did our calculations, we didn't calculate in the cost of child care; we didn't calculate in the costs related to some specific clothes that you might need for work; and we didn't calculate in a cost for transportation. So it is a very iffy estimate but, even without calculating those in, $9.00 would be the minimum amount that would help a woman and a child live without the help of government and live at the low income cut-off, slightly above.
We think that the drafted policy misses many opportunities to allow people to bridge the gap between poverty level incomes and that low income cut-off. The monthly earned income exemption has been dropped in this policy from $200 a month to only $100 a month. That is noted as an incentive for recipients to seek full-time employment. That is debatable, whether that would be any kind of incentive, but it certainly is no incentive for a woman with a child to seek part-time employment that could allow her to earn enough to fill that gap between what she is going to be getting on social assistance and what the low income cut-off is. We think that is something, that there should be an incentive towards, for those women who would see their participation in the workforce as being in the best interests of themselves and their child.
There is also missed opportunity, we believe, with the Canada Child Tax Benefit. By 1998, this benefit was designed to give a family with one child a supplement of $1,625; with two children $3,000. These are substantial amounts that could make quite a difference but, along with that, the province would have the right to clawback that amount from the social assistance income that someone would get. In practice, there would really, there could be, depending on the decisions that are made, it could make little or no real difference to a woman
who is dependent on social assistance for her income. The cheque might look a little bit different, but it is not going to be any larger.
We think that is a really missed opportunity. Granted the province, and if they do claw that back, is obligated to re-invest that in other social programs aimed at helping low-income families, but it does not guarantee any adjustment to the number of children and women who are going to be living in poverty. We think that guarantee has to be a lot stronger and the province needs to look at this as being real income, and for people who are in desperate need of an increase in income rather than something that will fund programs that they may or may not be able to participate in.
We have focused our brief very much on women with young children and there is a reason for doing that. As community groups we are often told that we need to base our decisions on evidence; we need to look at where the best and most effective use of our dollar is. Over and over again policy-makers, very much backed up by the long-term empirical researchers, are saying to policy folks like yourselves and government departments, you either pay now or you pay later. There is no way to avoid the cost of creating health among women and children and families in general. If we ensure that children's primary needs are met now, we will significantly increase the probability that those children are going to be self-reliant, healthy, competent, capable, responsible, tax-paying adults.
There is no way to get away from it; it is during those early years that we would be best advised to make sure that we look after that. If we can't look after anything else at the moment, it certainly would be advisable to look at children aged birth to six years and do the very best that we can for them and their mothers.
Many community members do believe that social assistance should be a temporary relief for those unable to work. I think when you consider the circumstances of single women who are responsible for children, there are some other things to take into consideration. We do need to have access to appropriate child care, not just any child care and it is not okay to tell women to leave their children with their families so that they can go off and participate in the workforce. We have lots of research, we have the Canadian Child Care Federation telling us that children need to be placed in licensed centres, whether that is family-based centres in people's homes or whether that is centre-based. They do need to be left in appropriate care while their mothers are out, whether it is part-time or full-time employment. We need to ensure that children are properly looked after.
We feel that women who are going to participate in the workforce at a low-wage rate are much more disadvantaged in having the flexibility that is required to take on the responsibilities of working and looking after their children. They won't have discretionary income that will allow them to balance that as well as higher-income earning mothers and families could. So these are things that we really do need to take seriously and take into consideration.
The childcare arrangements outlined in the policy are very scant and there is no reference to what kind of childcare a woman would need to secure before she would be required to accept an employment offer, but it certainly does look that there is a large onus on people's families helping out in this kind of way, that that is the first line of fire, that this effort must be made to have families accept their legal responsibilities and familial responsibilities to women with children.
I would like to spend just a moment talking about government's attitudes toward low-income Canadians who do depend on governments for social assistance. There are many negatives myths that abound regarding negative attitude towards work held by social assistance recipients. This is not our experience. These negative attitudes do add increased pressures to those who are already incredibly overburdened. The stresses are great when you are living in a deficit financial situation and when you are responsible for looking after little children. We really need to take a responsibility in ridding our communities of the kinds of myths that are abounding.
We are overwhelmingly impressed by the high commitment to positive parenting that we witness on a daily basis. Low-income, single-parent families are not bad parents and we witness extremely good parenting on a continual basis, and the myth that there is something desperately wrong going on in these families needs to be dispelled.
There is a sharp distinction inherent in both federal and provincial discussions, policies and agreements and central to that is the implication that children who are members of working poor families are more deserving of our help than children who are members of welfare families. There is a distinction being drafted between the working poor and the non-working poor, and we need to address that.
Welfare bashing within government policies is not okay. Our goal needs to be to reduce child poverty, not to redefine it, so we need to be very careful when we are looking at the language that is being used in new policies, too. We need to be really clear in stating the problem that needs to be solved. From our vantage point, the problem is not finding a way to force those who do not want to work to work; that is not the problem. The problem is creating jobs that can assure earned incomes at or above the low-income cut-off levels; that is the problem that governments need to solve.
The relationship between government and non-government organizations. As I said earlier, we did participate in the focus groups, and that participation was entered into with a fair degree of enthusiasm. As the committee moved around the province and we spoke with our colleagues, more and more stuff unfolded about what those consultations were really about. For example, we were told in the Valley that there was no discussion paper, there was no draft policy that we could look at prior to and participating in those focus groups but, as
it turned out, someone showed up at that meeting with the draft policy. So there needs to be honest and open communication and there needs to be honest and open consultation with community groups. The game needs to be fair if we are going to put our time and concerted efforts into our participation.
I would like to close by saying that the issue is eliminating poverty. The force and the onus on any new policies needs to be just that, and we urge this committee to ensure that our views be carried forward to the Department of Community Services and to the Department of Health. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
MR. GORDON BALSER: You seem to have been down this trail before in terms of making submissions and being involved in these types of presentations. What do you see as the potential pitfalls for this committee once we have gleaned the information? You have indicated that from past experience whatever comes out the end is usually short of the mark. What can we anticipate or what should we be watching for so we can avoid that happening if we truly want to make positive change?
MS. RAVEN: I think that you need to keep an eye on the big picture. It is very easy to get caught up in the smaller details. Policies never start from nowhere, and I think policies that are built on old policies tend to be a lot less progressive and creative than policies that are built from the ground up. So I think that would be something to look out for. What if you were to take all of the input from these kinds of consultations and start from scratch in putting something together? I think you could end up with something quite different than a policy or a document or initiative that is juggling with past things that in and of themselves didn't work particularly well.
MR. GORDON BALSER: One other question. You had spoken earlier of an attitude toward county and county organizations. Could you elaborate a bit in terms of what you were implying?
MS. RAVEN: Community organizations. That was the bit of our brief that we didn't get to, to the extent that we would have liked to in the time that we had. I think that community organizations have very different relationships with women and children than government organizations do. One prime example of that would be that we do work, in a way, in the child protection area, but in a much more preventive way than Family and Children Services workers would or Community Services workers would in that we tend to be in a situation where there isn't as much fear of us as an agency. I think there is a great deal of honesty in our relationships with the women that we work with, and they would be less inclined to tell us what they think we want to hear and tell us the truth about what their circumstances are and what it is that they would need help with.
A prime example of that might be something like under-management or frustration with situations, or frustrations with children. They could speak to us very openly about that and we could help them and find ways and strategies to cope with those frustrations and angers, whereas for other agencies that are more centrally mandated with a child protection type of agenda, women might fear that type of honesty in working with those workers.
So I do think that often community organizations have the real goods on what is going on and they have the real picture. They have been in homes where the situation hasn't been artificial. They have been in the real home of the family that they are working with and there has been less preparation for a support worker arriving, so I think you can get very good information from community organizations and that they are key informants for the kinds of changes that you want to make.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Thank you.
MR. PYE: Pauline, back in 1993, during the federal election campaign, there was this belief that universal day care should be accepted across Canada. I am wondering, do you consider that a priority, universal day care, and is that part of the childcare program that you would like to see?
MS. RAVEN: I think a greatly expanded childcare program would open our options for women, regardless of their economic circumstances. Women who want to do the very best job that they possibly can in parenting their children want to know that their children are being well-tended while they are in the workforce, and childcare spaces are very scarce, especially licensed childcare spaces. So, yes, I do think that a lot more attention needs to be paid to childcare.
MR. PYE: My final question to you. Did the calculations that you have come up with, with respect to the hourly rate of providing a single mother and child with an adequate income that would leave them with a $300 surplus at the end of the year, roughly $9.00 an hour is what you stated, if that is the case, and given that I believe that it is fair to say that very few provincial jurisdictions have an hourly rate of $9.00 an hour as the minimum wage level, I am wondering how you picture a guaranteed annual income coming into play?
MS. RAVEN: I think that it can be a partnership between families and government and the exemption rate for earnings needs to be much higher. Maybe it needs to be the gap between what governments can provide on social assistance and what the low-income cut-off is, but certainly to expect families to live on any less than the low-income cut-off is to expect families to live under great strain and duress.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Would you say that one of the keys to this is creating jobs above that $5.50 per hour; in other words, up to say around $9.00 as being one of the main things?
MS. RAVEN: Absolutely. You know, $9.00 is something to look at as an interim goal, but raising a family on $15,000 with, we had calculated, $6.71 of a surplus on a weekly basis doesn't create an ideal solution, that is for sure, so $9.00 would be an absolute minimum.
MR. MONTGOMERY: You mentioned - not to lose sight of the total objective, but yet to come back and have the building blocks at the grass roots, something to that effect, and Mr. Hazel brought up the idea of $300 a month for a single mother - you also mentioned that the poverty level is higher among single mothers so, from that point of view, do you see what Mr. Hazel has suggested as somewhat of an offset to lower the case of poverty?
MR. RAVEN: I wasn't here for all of Mr. Hazel's presentation.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Oh, I am sorry. I thought that you were. He had suggested $300 a month for mothers to stay at home and be supported by the family.
MR. RAVEN: I don't think that would be a choice that would be very attractive to many of the women that we work with. I think young women who end up being parents early in life still have the same goals for independence that other young adults do. The developmental path that they are on does include a child, but it still has many similarities to the developmental path that other young adults are on. Staying at home with a parent with a $300 independent allowance would be a difficult circumstance for most young women that I know.
MS. ATWELL: Pauline, first, thank you for that excellent presentation, it was very good. As a non-government organization - and there are many around - are there other ways in which we can solicit community input around policy other than through the traditional focus groups and community consultation? What are your thoughts on that?
MS. RAVEN: Focus groups properly organized and facilitated, I think, serve more than just the consultation function. I do think that it gives people an opportunity to discuss their particular circumstances and to receive a lot of support from one another. So the focus-group format does create some onus for collective action and change. We, on a one-to-one kind of basis, also gather very useful information for us in developing our programs. Some people aren't comfortable with a focus group kind of format, but they are very comfortable in sitting down. The shyest people sometimes come up with the most amazing ideas within our programs when they are approached on a one-to-one basis, but, you know, it is also good to have one idea spin-off the other in a focus-group format.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments for Ms. Raven? Thank you very much.
MS. RAVEN: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenter is from Chrysallis House, Mary DeWolfe.
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: Good evening, I am glad Pauline opened. I could just sit here and say okay, ditto to everything that she said, but what I will try to do is be very specific, first of all, around Chrysallis House and the constituency whom we serve, then I would like to make some wider comments and points, if time permits.
For your information, I expect that most of you know but I will reiterate that Chrysallis House is the Valley shelter for abused women and their children. We are mandated to serve abused women in Kings, Hants West and Annapolis Counties and, as well, one of our programs includes Hants East. We define abuse in a very wide way and include physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, and financial abuse certainly is a factor.
Pauline articulated very well, I felt, the concerns that we share around the plight of single-mother-led families, particularly speaking to the CAPC group of children aged birth to six years and their extended families. So I am not going to dwell on that, but I would like you to consider this, having heard what Pauline had to say, I ask you to take all of those stresses and duresses, if you will, and consider that once the element of intimate partner abuse or family violence is added, that the critical nature of this family has just deepened, how many fold we can only imagine. Often we are talking about the same group.
Chrysallis House is a partner in the Annapolis Valley-Hants Community Action Program for Children Project. Our Children's Outreach Program is funded through CAPSEA and so on and so forth, so there is an overlap. There is also a much larger constituency that we serve and I would like to speak, first of all, to one of the groups that I feel has not had a strong voice and has been very much silenced and neglected and overlooked; that is, the plight of senior women, first and foremost, but particularly senior women or older women, women who do not have dependent children, who are trying to escape violent or abusive situations.
As it pertains to the revamped Community Services policy, these women seem to be nameless and faceless. For the most part - and I want to be very careful because I don't want to over-generalize or to over-categorize - many of the women who are over the age of, say, 45 would have a very difficult time indeed in making their way back into the workforce, whether or not they have had prior experience in the workforce. If they have been out of the workforce for even 5 or 10 years, I think we now know that is the equivalent to, in the last decade, having been out of the workforce for 20 years. The barriers are incredible. This is
considering that they have no other immediate barriers such as living in fear of stalking or additional physical or other disabilities and so on and so forth.
Over the last several years, of course, I have met hundreds and hundreds of women in these situations. During the past winter, I had occasion to talk with many seniors, most of whom are living in the seniors' complexes and are women. It was a very unnerving experience indeed to go from one doorstep to the next, just taking deep breaths and hoping that I could keep on going without having to take myself off somewhere and have a glass of cold water.
You saw strong, courageous, independent women who were in their 60s, 70s and beyond, who would talk quite openly about their experience and about the fact that they really had not asked for a lot. They had a great deal of pride. They had raised their families. Often they had raised their families in poverty and were very quick to show pictures or talk about their children who were now doctors, lawyers, who had university degrees and so on and so forth and, meanwhile, they were still living in poverty. The breaking point for them would come when whoever was in charge of their subsidized housing would do a revamped budget with them, discover that they had a surplus of $6.00 a month and have that taken off their next cheque. As they would tell these stories - and I could tell it was in spite of themselves - the tears would come and they would ask, why? What did I ever do to deserve this?
I am asking you. I know you are representatives. To me you are representative of a system, of the elected system, and I am telling you that something needs to be done, that we have to look at each and every constituency, every person who is living in this kind of economic deprivation in this province.
I came late tonight, as I had to attend another meeting earlier. I came in as the gentleman with diabetes was talking to you; I think his name was Bill. He was talking and I could hear what he was saying and I could envision how he was living. I also heard him, I think, making a few sort of judgemental remarks about young, unmarried mothers, and it has occurred to me once again how this current climate, this environment, this atmosphere has pitted our most vulnerable people against each other as the power-brokers, the policy-makers, the people who hold the governmental purse-strings sit back and are removed.
We hear swipes being taken at single moms; we hear swipes being taken at older women; at male, supposedly able-bodied unemployed, who supposedly are too lazy and/or criminal, or what have you, to work. In my experience - again without overstating, without overgeneralizing - I truly believe that most people want to lead dignified, independent, autonomous lives, and we have created a system that not only doesn't favour that approach, but in actual fact it puts deliberate barriers to full employment and to everybody being able to live with dignity.
One of the questions that we were asked to consider was what we feel about the current state of coordination of services between provincial departments. I think a prime example was in the Friends of Schizophrenia presentation. I was sitting there nodding. I have had quite a bit of experience with several different departments. We're currently co-funded, if you will, by the Departments of Justice and Community Services for a specific project, which is the Framework for Action project, our advocacy network.
The two departments have very different philosophies. Of course, we know they have very different mandates, but one would think that if we are talking about trying to eradicate violence against women or trying to support community workers who are supporting women who are living in violent situations, that the two departments, the two philosophies could be married a little bit better than they are, that we would not, as community workers, be put in the position of trying to second-guess what ministers or their senior civil servants are trying to establish amongst each other or between each other.
There are several departments, that I would think have a natural liaison, that don't seem to be speaking to each other in a very productive fashion when we are dealing with poverty" Justice, Economic Development, Health, and Community Services. I would like to say here that I wholeheartedly believe there should be a better relationship, a very close relationship between Health and Community Services, short of the two departments being merged. I think that would be an absolute disaster. I know that comes around every few years as another topic of discussion.
As well, between our provincial government and their federal counterparts, speaking specifically about programs, I am looking at the frustrations expressed by many individuals and their inability to access CPP when they are entitled to it, to the EI program which we have seen slashed all to bits. Even the way it now exists, people are not able to access it when they need it and indeed deserve it. Workers' compensation, I don't think I need to articulate too much about workers' compensation; we know that this is an issue.
You look at that in the context of our general assistance or our social assistance programs, and then the other little tag-along program of maintenance enforcement, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand, and so on and so on, are doing all the way through these systems. Yet, we are holding more and more, the person who is - and this is not my favourite word - the victim, if you will, of economic deprivation, we are holding her or him responsible for their own destiny. We are telling them that what they need to do is to get off their rear end and go to work, when we know the jobs aren't there and the support is not there for them to even become trained properly to do what they are most suited to do.
We expect people who are labouring with great barriers to be more accountable than we are apparently obliging our governments to be, or our government systems. There is something wrong here, I think. Part of this political football thing that really bothers me, when we are talking about people who are struggling with poverty as a primary presenting issue,
and abuse, family violence, and we also are looking at students, young people - some not so young - struggling to get an education, we are looking at people who are dealing with chronic and perhaps terminal illness and, overlaying all of that, we are talking about not enough income to sustain themselves in any kind of a dignified manner, and these are the people, these are the issues that have been used as political footballs in this province for a long time and I am seeing it more and more these days. I am going to suggest that when we are talking about these issues, partisan politics have no place, no place whatsoever.
This discussion paper that was released this summer, dated July 1998, on the introduction page, the second paragraph, it is nothing but political propaganda and if I appear to be very angry, it is because I am. I will read it for you: As we head toward a new century, Nova Scotians have a renewed sense of confidence and achievement. After five years of successfully dealing with the fiscal crisis, our government is now able to follow a balanced approach of investing in social policies with careful spending.
That is okay during an election campaign as a piece of literature; it is not okay in a book that says Nova Scotia Community Services - Rebuilding the System - A Discussion Paper. To me, that exemplifies what has been going on. Poor people aren't sexy. We know that.
I know that time is moving on and you have other presenters. I just want to say, in closing, that we - and when I say we I am taking in a very large constituency, I am talking about women's networks across the province, community activists, friends, colleagues, some of whom are political and some of whom are not - have worked for years and years, and many longer than I have, in trying to eradicate that Draconian, heartless, two-tiered social services system. So it is with a great deal of difficulty that I come here tonight sounding so negative. I figured it out today. It is because this new system is like the emperor's clothes. It is still a two-tiered system by any other name.
We have changed, we have a nice looking policy manual where it talks about a kind and gentle and humane approach, but that is not happening in practice. When you scratch the surface and when you hear the kinds of things that you have heard tonight and you know that people are experiencing these things on a daily basis, you know that it is not getting better for the most vulnerable; in fact, it is getting worse. It is worse because nobody seems to know what the rules are. At least, ironically, under the old system, which was not a fair or good system, but at least people knew pretty well what the rules of the game were. They knew which workers to watch out for; they knew which municipalities were going to be more supportive, and which ones to avoid. We are living in Kings County, remember, folks. We have had experience with this.
Now the rules have changed. It is supposedly a new, bright, supportive system, and what we are seeing is that it is a sham. I do apologize for being so negative. I just feel that this needs to be said and I would very much like you to carry these messages back and I would
like to respond to a question that you put to Pauline - I think it came from you, Yvonne - about the place for community to provide input.
One of the reasons for my anger is that we have consulted, or attempted to consult with, or been consulted with government folks time after time. We take time out of our busy days, we are under-resourced, understaffed, we bring consumers to the table, we tell government what is going on, what it is that we are recommending, what it is that these people are experiencing, what it is that they need - and it is precious little that we are asking for - and it is not reflected back to us in any great degree.
Many of us would be most willing to have a direct liaison with policy-makers at whatever level, but we do not want to be used again as part of the political football game. So if you want to consult with us - you being the government that you represent - then please do so with respect and be prepared to hear what it is that we have to say, whether it is pleasant or not, but know this, that we know from whence we speak and that we are the people that are trying to support the most vulnerable and to make a real difference at the community level.
If we are treated with respect - we and the constituencies within which we work - I am sure that the rewards will be there on the other end because there is nothing more efficient than a community organization. God knows, we have had to learn to live within our budgets and, if we operated with deficits, we would be out of business.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MR. MOODY: Mary, you are not usually negative; you are usually positive.
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: Now are you being negative or are you being positive, George?
MR. MOODY: No, you are always positive. Going back, you covered a wide range of areas, but in thinking of changes that hopefully will occur and improve the system and thinking of the clients at Chrysallis House and thinking about getting them back out into the community, do you have any specific recommendations from the system now and how the system could be better to make that happen? My experience and we have had these discussions before about those kinds of things that happen directly to those clients, I would be interested in what you think most importantly should be changed to make that transition easier.
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: Well, first and foremost, the thrust of the new policy seems to be in getting people off the system. I have no problem with that, in fact; most of the people I know who are on the system want out but, let's be realistic, for many women, whether or
not they have children - but if they have children chances are it is even more difficult - women who are just leaving or have just left an abusive situation may not be emotionally or even physically ready at that point in time to make that kind of a decision. Where the poverty issue comes in, too, is that contrary to popular myth it is not just women who have come from the lower socio-economic order who have been dealing with abuse as a constant issue in their lives, one thing that they all have in common is that mostly the minute that they leave that relationship they are plunged into immediate poverty. So it may be that, down the road, employment may be an option for women.
I think the first thing is to ask them and that goes for anybody in the system; talk to them in a humane way. What is it, if you could be or do anything, what would it be and what would it take to get you there? Perhaps you are going to get some unrealistic answers, but I would bet you that the majority of times you would get quite realistic answers. That is - and I have heard it said before here tonight - tailoring to individual needs. Now, obviously, you have to have a framework and you have to have levels of assistance and so on, but that doesn't prohibit us from dealing with each individual as a unique human being.
MR. MOODY: Do you think the new policy that I just heard about - and maybe it's been around and I am just slow learning - that single parent moms, it's no good to apply for family benefits because you can't get family benefits anymore because it is not long term anymore and I don't know what added pressure, now, is that to get them out to work or is it to keep an eye on them or what?
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: We think there's a little bit of both, George. Actually there is sort of a vigilantism that's running rampant.
MR. MOODY: That's what I feel, yes.
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: The issue around young women and I guess by that, generally, it is women under the age of 20 who are being forced to live in the original family origin with their new child, chances are that the family of origin has not been one that has been providing a supportive and healthy environment. I mean there are layers and layers and layers here. In allotting income assistance, things like telephones are not provided for because they are a luxury. If a woman is at fear for herself, the physical safety of herself and/or her children, I suggest the telephone is a necessity, not a luxury, and so on and so on.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mary. On April 1, 1998, Community Services took over social assistance throughout the entire province. We were told and we were led to believe, both in the committee and in the Legislature, that many of the clients who live in rural municipalities have seen as high as 70 per cent increases, and even higher, in their monthly allotments to their benefits. As a result of that, we were told that a number of people even called to see if there were mistakes in their cheques, indicating that that be the case and, seeing these kind of significant increases, can I ask you if, in fact, people in rural communities, as a result of
taking over social assistance and making it into a one-tier service, their positions have been greatly enhanced as a result of that?
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: I would like to know where these mythical municipalities are, Jerry. I certainly have heard no women who thought they had received too much; in fact, it is the opposite. Pauline touched on the child tax credit. I have had complaints over and over - I shouldn't say complaints. That sounds so pejorative - I have had women come to me in frustration and concern talking about the deductions being made from their cheques when they have received a little bit in the other hand, i.e., from the Child Tax Benefit or from HST rebate. Given the inequity of the system before, I suspect there are places in the province where recipients are receiving more, but you have to put that into context and realize how poor it was before.
I have a great concern around the level of assistance, but it is not even the dollar amounts at this point in time that concern me the most. It is the push to drive people into - as we have heard over and over again - the low-paying, insecure jobs; the lack of transportation; the lack of childcare; and the lack of support. In these discussion papers and in the manual it sounds as if workers in the system are going to be your new best friend. I know there are dedicated, wonderful workers within the system and there are some who are not, but the system cannot be police and Lady Bountiful on the one hand, and on the other hand be the person's closest support. There is something wrong there. There is something that doesn't work and the workers I see who are getting burnt-out are the workers in the system who are trying to follow the rules as dictated by the internal policies and be a real support to the client.
MR. PYE: I just want to go to one more question, and this is with respect to my colleague MLA, Mr. Moody, when he made reference with respect to family benefits. I am wondering if you can tell this committee if, in fact, there is a move afoot in the Community Services Department to reduce the number of individuals on family benefits and put them into what is called the IAP, the Income Assistance Program, and if, in fact, you have experienced that in this county?
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: Yes, absolutely. In fact that move was afoot before April 1st.
MR. PYE: Yes, it has.
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: Yes. It has been happening in a more escalating fashion for about two years now. In many cases it has just simply not worked and it has really put the person or the family back; it has driven them back.
MR. PYE: And reduced their allotment to an even significant level?
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: Yes, yes. Financially, absolutely a hardship but, more than that, it is, again, this business of people being entitled to live with dignity. They are being put through tests which they cannot score high on; I am saying that metaphorically. What it is doing is further eroding self-esteem and so on and how do you prepare a person to live an autonomous life if their sense of self is being ground down more and more every day? This system is doing it.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just wanted to make note of that simply because there was comment made with respect from the department's office that, in fact, there has been a reduction in the number of people who are on family benefits and there is the logical reason for it. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further questions or comments? Thank you very much.
MS. MARY DEWOLFE: I am sorry, Madam Chair, could I just add one point that I meant to speak to, and I will make it very quick. Chrysallis House is an organization and in a way, it is analogous that we're kind of living below the poverty line as well. I would just like to point out that, number one, since April 1st, we have been on a 100 per cent funding system; that is, we don't bill municipal units any longer on a per diem basis. That has been good for us; it has stabilized our funding. So, don't let it be said that I didn't say anything positive here tonight, but I also would like to remind government members that it is October 22nd, and we are more than halfway through our fiscal year and yet, again, we still don't have an approved budget. Thanks.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Our next presenter is Betty Baltzer.
MS. BETTY BALTZER: I don't think I can say much after what has already been said. I tried to write it down.
MADAM CHAIR: That's okay. Good evening.
MS. BETTY BALTZER: I tried to write it down, but I couldn't put it in words like I would like to, but everything that has been said here tonight comes down to one thing: people on social assistance, people who are low income, people who are on disabilities, whatever, are living in poverty and they have been for several years. We have asked all over for help and we have never got a bit of help.
I have $49 from the Province of Nova Scotia to do something with each month, along with my husband's Canada Pension, and I do not get Canada Pension but I have disabilities as well as he does. I never got my Canada Pension because the government wants me to go to a hearing with three doctors that put me down in the first place, to destroy my life, and
because I can't get legal help, because I am not a criminal, I can't get anywhere with that because what hope have I got against three doctors?
There is so much more that I could bring up, but that $49 from the Province of Nova Scotia, I would like to send it back to them because I don't know what to do with it. There is so much money that I need to do things with. In the first place, I was working and then, all of a sudden, the economic situation decided that people were being put out of jobs because, either the private sector or the government has been shoving people down to the bottom for too long. So if you want my $49, I will send it back next month because I don't know where to put it, there are so many places for it to go. Thank you.
I am glad you gave me the opportunity to say as much as I could tonight because I could say so much more. There is so much out there and I listen to it all and it hurts me so much to see so many people having it so hard. One of the reasons, there is so much alcohol around this province, that there are so many people that are abusing themselves plus their families, and it goes on and on and on. If they would get the alcohol out of this province, it would help a lot of us. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Before you leave, just to help us understand your situation, can I ask you a couple of questions, would that be okay?
MS. BETTY BALTZER: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: What I am taking from what you have told us is that you've made an application for CPP?
MS. BETTY BALTZER: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: That has been turned down? Is that what you're saying? You haven't been successful in having that . . .
MS. BETTY BALTZER: I haven't got CPP because they wanted me to have a hearing about what three doctors wrote about me, which I don't agree with. I can't get legal assistance. I need a lawyer to go to that hearing, but I haven't got it and there's no way I can get it unless I am a criminal. I have tried being a criminal and I am tired of people pushing me to the point where I got thrown in jail, but they don't want me to be thrown in jail because they don't want to hear the story.
MADAM CHAIR: So I guess the other piece then is that you applied for family benefits and they looked at your husband's income and determined then that you would be eligible for $49?
MS. BETTY BALTZER: We are supposed to be allowed to cover our rent. We moved anywhere from 8 to 10 times in one year trying to find a place that was decent enough to live in and we have found a place that we love but, since we have been in Kings County, no one has bothered to balance our situation and how do we pay for all the things to put a roof over our head, keep us warm, and pay our power bill and have enough food on the table for a whole month, and look after some of the other things that are so important, too, in a life?
If you tell me that I am existing, I don't think I am, because I get to the point where I run out of money probably 10 days after that cheque comes in. I try to make it last for the whole month but I can't and, probably 10 days or maybe 5 days, it depends on what happens in that month and then you have to find a way to find food for the rest of the month, or if you need gas to get to your doctor, or if you need gas to do some other things that are very important to me, you just have no way of doing it.
I am getting tired of seeing my children, who are adults now, trying to make a go of it because they need lots of training, but they are so down because of the whole system. They have seen their mother and father hurt so bad by everything, why would they try? They don't believe in nothing anymore and that's not just my children, or my young adult children. I don't feel like calling them children because they're not children anymore, but they are trying to make a life in this country, or province, and all we hear is something about how Quebec wants to separate from Canada, or all these other things, but there are little things that are so much important to make us all work.
I love Nova Scotia. I don't even care to go out of Nova Scotia, but I will just tell you of one incident. This summer, someone gave us enough money to go see my husband's brother in New Brunswick, because he hadn't been up there for 15 years. He landed in the hospital because his doctor here in Nova Scotia didn't even pick up a lung infection. He landed in the hospital in New Brunswick where he got treated like royalty. He has been back here since June and he's still having problems and no one has bothered to find out about it. That's our health care system in this province. I am sorry I brought him back to Nova Scotia. I should have left him in New Brunswick. He might be a lot better if he got some help up there. You see, I do get carried away and I don't really like doing that, but I am surprised I said what I did tonight.
MR. MUIR: Betty, did you get assistance prior to April 1st? Was there any change in the amount of money you received when it went from municipal to provincial?
MS. BETTY BALTZER: I will try to fill you in as best I can. When we got out of work - we both tried to work as much as we could, no matter what, for 35 years of our life, since we were out of high school - we tried everything to keep off welfare, because we didn't like the idea because we've heard too much about it from other people, but the more we tried, the worse it got. They wouldn't give Bill his Canada Pension; they wouldn't give me my
Canada Pension. They wouldn't even give us unemployment insurance, so we went on welfare.
We got his unemployment insurance because I fought for it. We got $1,900 just before Christmas one year, but we didn't spend it on Christmas. We tried to keep it going for three months, so we wouldn't have to go back on welfare. It is a messed-up affair and I have gone over it and over it so many times and there has been nothing done about it.
I am just hoping that this new committee that we have for this Department of Community Services, that you fellows get out there, and the best way to do it is to write up a questionnaire, put it in with the cheques from the Province of Nova Scotia, and there are a lot of people - get this, and I know it - won't answer them because they are scared to death that they're going to lose their cheque, but I don't worry about it one bit because I don't have enough to live on anyway and I figure that's the way the rest of them should feel, too, because why is it that people can try as hard as they can to keep afloat, but yet when you're really down and out, then you take the kicks every which way it comes to you because that's exactly what it is.
I have caught up on my power bill. I remember the man, about his power bill tonight, first, I got my power bill caught up, but now I got to pay for oil for the winter. So I got a feeling it is going to get behind again because there's no way that you can pay for your oil, your power, and on top of that I've got to go and call the furnace repairman because I know there is something wrong with my furnace, but where do I go for money for that and where am I going to get it?
MADAM CHAIR: Just before you leave, are there any other comment or questions?
MR. PYE: I know that MLA, Mr. Muir, asked you if, in fact, and I am not clear if you answered his question or not, now, I do know that your husband gets a disability benefit, I would assume that that's CPP, Canada Pension disability, and where is your other $49 coming from? Is that actually coming from Community Services?
MS. BETTY BALTZER: That's coming from family benefits, the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. PYE: So that's the income supplement that they provide you, that they said would top it up to where they would allow you to receive?
MS. BETTY BALTZER: Yes.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Just before you leave and maybe you have already done this, . . .
MS. BETTY BALTZER: I am sorry. I have a hearing problem and I don't hear quite enough, that's why it is hard for me to go to meetings.
MADAM CHAIR: Before you leave, and maybe you have already done this, with respect to doing a CPP appeal and not being able to get Legal Aid. I know, because of the calls I get in my own office on this very similar kind of situation, that the appeal process is one that people do not feel comfortable going and representing themselves at because of the medical information, quite often, that you are dealing with and the legal provisions of the CPP program that all come out in the mail. As you are going through this process, it can be quite intimidating and quite often MLAs and Members of Parliament assist people in that process of representation in front of the tribunal, either by assisting directly themselves or have their CA's or finding other members in the community, perhaps a social worker, a retiree, whatever, and I don't know if you have gone that route, but if you haven't, that might be something to look at.
MS. BETTY BALTZER: I have tried a good many sources, maybe not enough but it seems that when you think that you finally have got someone who is going to listen, they get turned off for some reason and I don't know what it is. It just seems like if you get into things too deep, someone must tell you don't bother because you are getting in too deep, and I know this is going on, we never get anything really done right because it is like passing the buck, you pass it from one place to another.
I do believe myself that if people had more money to live on they would be putting more into the economy and the people who are on disabilities, social assistance, low income, they have to stay in Nova Scotia because they never get a chance to go anywhere else. Some of the people who have much more money than we do, they can go down to the United States, they can go all over the world and spend Canadian money in those countries and that is why our dollar is going down. There is not enough being spent here in Canada or the Province of Nova Scotia but there are a lot of people who have had a little extra money to be able to go out and be independent instead of begging for everything they get.
We could bring this province and this country back up. It would take a long time, but I remember the 1950's and 1960's and we sure didn't have to go through this. I even know some people who were on welfare at that time and they didn't live like we are living today, because they had more money and they had more help than some of us have today.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Our next presentation is from the Valley Child Development Association, Tina Lutz.
MS. TINA LUTZ: My name is Tina Lutz and I am representing the Valley Child Development Association. It is a non-profit early intervention program concerned with promoting and developing programs for young children with special needs. The association is composed of a volunteer board of directors representing many sectors of the community,
so we have speech and language occupational therapists, parents and what have you on the board.
Valley Child began as early as 1976, when a group of concerned individuals meeting the needs of developmentally delayed children and their families was formed. In 1977, VCDA began providing service to families in eastern Kings County from birth to age 3. After a short, dormant period and a continued struggle for funding, VCDA was incorporated in 1984, servicing all of Kings County. In September 1988, partial funding through the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services was received with the balance through local fund-raising activities and donations. Today, three full-time early interventionists and a part-time secretary provide early intervention services to families of children with special needs from birth to age five, residing in both Kings County and West Hants.
The early intervention program is home-based, focusing on providing support to families with special needs who are between birth and age five, or at risk for delay due to medical and/or environmental conditions. The children served may present with a diagnosed disorder such as cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, autism, or may be born prematurely and are at risk for delay. The aim of our program is to provide support and guidance to parents helping them increase their knowledge about child development, assisting them in learning skills needed to encourage their child's development and to provide them with information on available community resources.
It is recognized that the most important source of learning, support and encouragement for the child is the family unit, in that learning is most effective within the child's daily routine. As such, the early interventionist visits the child in the home on a regular basis and together with the parents, plan specific learning activities geared towards that child's particular needs. The early interventionist also maintains contact with other professionals involved with the family - the pre-school staff, the speech and language pathologist, the physios, the physicians, everyone involved - trying to keep programming consistent for the family and the child. Full-time early interventionists have a caseload of about 15 families visiting them anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on the particular needs. The program is a free service and referrals are received from anyone concerned with the child's development. Involvement is voluntary but essential for success.
The importance of early intervention is very clear and I think everyone recognizes that. The benefits to the family as it helps them cope and facilitate their own child's development, the children's increased levels of development and confidence, the community's awareness, preparation into the school, thus decreased long-term costs. However, the obstacles facing our own program, I think they are consistent with programs across the province, of which there are 12 existing early intervention programs, like ours, funded in the same way. At times we are all faced with long waiting lists. Our own program has been struggling now for the last
two years with a large waiting list of anywhere from one year to 18 months. This results in greater delays for the families.
This year, to try to alleviate some of the concerns in this, we are decreasing the service to those children over the age of three so that we can get into the homes earlier and provide the necessary support to families when a child is first diagnosed. However, the other side of that is, are the needs of the children over age three being met appropriately?
Another obstacle for our program is the funding problem. VCDA is required to raise about $30,000 a year and with increased cuts to all programs and the increased burden on businesses, service clubs and individuals, it is very difficult to raise this money. The other issue making this very difficult is the burden is all rested upon the board of directors. This is a volunteer board faced with the executive decisions, the program administration and fund-raising, all by a group of volunteer individuals who have many other priorities besides just the early intervention program that they sit on the board of.
Finally, another problem that we see in our program - probably, specifically, because of where we are located - early intervention is not province-wide. VCDA borders on two areas not served, one being East Hants and Annapolis County. We receive many referrals every year from both of these areas that are turned away with very little assistance. We do try to get them in touch with services that might be in their area and then there are many families that are never referred because the referring source knows that they don't reside in the catchment area and the referral is never made at all.
The Department of Community Services just recently, last year, made a change in our funding. It is not specific to the five main budget areas which it was before, it is a block funding now which has helped in getting the money where it is needed. I know from fund-raising, things such as going to service clubs, business groups and that sort of thing, they don't like to raise for operating costs but they might give us something for a specific item that is needed. Our program was also able to get a Ronald McDonald grant from the children's charity which certainly helped with toys, resources and that sort of thing but there are still great gaps in early intervention across the province.
Our program specialist in the Department of Community Services, along with a group formed just a couple of years ago, Early Intervention Nova Scotia, which is a group that represents a few board members from all of the different programs across the area and also those communities that are trying to get an early intervention program started, there are members on each. Both are trying to link program staff and boards to help everyone benefit from that with the funding and the burden of program administrative duties. We are all working together towards a province-wide, 100 per cent funded early intervention program. I guess that is it.
MR. GORDON BALSER: In terms of your program and the fact that it has been operating for some time, have you had the opportunity to track children who have been served by your program and the families, the skills they have learned, to see if over time the benefits continue to be apparent, in terms of their transition from pre-school to school?
MS. LUTZ: It was only just recently in 1995, I believe, that early intervention in Nova Scotia even went to the age of five. Prior to that, early intervention was only from birth to three and then it stopped, there was nothing. Our specific program applied for a Child Care Initiatives Fund through the federal government in 1993. We received that funding which was 100 per cent to specifically work with kids from ages three to five. We had that program, then there was an awful lot of information tracked because of being with CCIF, we had an independent study done on it and everything. To the schools and to everyone involved it was a very positive outcome. Just prior to that funding ending, that was when the Province of Nova Scotia changed the age from birth to age three, to birth to age five, with the priority still from birth to age three for early intervention services, so it hasn't been that long that we have even been covering the whole pre-school age group.
MR. GORDON BALSER: In terms of that lack of continuum after age three, what happens to those children; are they just abandoned, so to speak?
MS. LUTZ: A big part of the goal of early intervention is to help the parents become their own case manager, to be able to go out and try to get some services and that sort of thing on their own. For some parents they can do that; for some that is not always the case, so some, yes, they wouldn't necessarily make the contacts to the school board. Our own program makes contact as early as about November or so the year before a child goes to school in preparation for looking at what sort of EA supports may be needed in the school system and that kind of thing for that child. If those children are not seen, some of them would for sure probably fall through the cracks. They are picked up through some community health nurses but it is not consistent. There is not someone you can go to and say this is who can look after this, and be sure.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Do you see that as being a big part of the problem that you want to highlight tonight, the need for your program to follow that child until school age and to do the prerequisites necessary to ensure smooth transition?
MS. LUTZ: Yes, I think it is very important and that is something that our program has just sort of had to - I mean, we are not cutting service. Our mandate is to service children from birth to five, of course, and those families that we do close out or decrease service to are families that are followed by a pre-school program, have children who are catching up very well or whatever. They would certainly be told in any respect, if they had any concerns in the future to contact us. I can certainly see that for some families it is very vital that they would continue that service, but with two and one-half staff members serving Kings County -
a few years ago, when we had our CCIF grant, we had four staff members serving Kings County and we still had a waiting list - it is just not possible.
MS. ATWELL: You are funded through Community Services, right?
MS. LUTZ: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: Do you see a role for the Department of Education to look at the children, particularly the ones just before they enter school, like four or five years old? You are doing the early intervention, like one to three. Do you think that the Department of Education could play a role in assisting your program with funding or support to help move those children to the next stage before entering school?
MS. LUTZ: We have always wondered whether we fall under the Department of Community Services, Department of Health or Department of Education. That has been a question that has been asked of all the programs: where do we really fit in? Special needs is not class specific, income specific. It is not specific to anything. Anyone can have a child with special needs and everyone needs support when they have a child with special needs, so I don't really know. I think there is a role for all three.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further questions or comments? Thank you very much.
We have at this moment three more presenters, just to let people know where we are going. The next presentation is from the Kings County Alternative Transportation Services Society. Mike Henri.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Madam Chair, I am the Chairperson of the Board of the Kings County Alternative Transportation Services Society. Without being here much of the evening, I suspect and I can probably predict that some of your previous presenters probably mentioned transportation as an issue in terms of people who are recipients of disability pensions or on community services benefits. Transportation in rural areas of Kings County, for our part, has always been a very serious issue; it seems rather practical, but most of us take it for granted. For someone who receives a pension to cover their costs, transportation is a large issue in terms of getting around.
An organization by the name of DUEL, which stands for Disabled United for Equal Living, drafted a report back in 1984 that suggested that some type of alternative transportation should be looked into. They went through the effort of establishing a needs report that highlighted why they felt that that should be addressed and unfortunately, without backing, that report sat on a shelf until our committee, which is what we started as, did another needs research project in 1994, essentially saying the same thing, that people who were disabled, people who were on disability, on community services, needed transportation
beyond what was being provided by the county. Kings County is lucky in some ways, because they have a transit bus that runs through the town, but being a rural area, it doesn't meet the needs of people who are outside of that area.
In 1994, our committee did this needs research again, saying the same thing, that alterative transportation was essential and was needed. We took that report, and we were luckier than the DUEL people, because we were able to sort of lobby the federal Department of Human Resources Development to invest some start-up costs in terms of paying for a coordinator, paying a little bit of transportation and starting a service. With other partners, we were able to secure some free rent and other office supplies, and we ran the service for a year, 1996-97. Initially, the first year was to get started, develop an infrastructure, develop partners and stuff like that, but it wasn't really successful.
In the second year, we went back to HRD and, luckily, they granted us some money to do it once again. We are again in operation; this is our second year. Our membership, as it stands now, is approximately 130 to 150 disabled persons that we serve. In the package, I think one of the things I didn't want to do is give you a lot of information, essentially I gave you the brochure. In terms of what we do, it is there. The stats are there: how many drives we do, how many kilometres we travel and the reasons for the drives. As you can see, the main reason for the drives is for employment-related issues. These are to help people get to work.
In my view, in terms of restructuring the Community Services system, simple things like transportation need to be addressed. People don't have enough money, and I don't think they will ever get enough money to pay for a car or pay for some sort of transportation. People get $17, $18 a month for transportation costs. For someone who lives in Canning, which is just 10 or 15 minutes outside of Kentville, it would cost $10, one way, to Kentville. So the idea that they would work or be empowered enough to get off the system, transportation is a large barrier. It is one of the first things they think of in terms of not moving on or not taking a risk. They know that the cost of getting back and forth to work is one of the reasons in the end, so at the end of the month, they are no further ahead.
Like I say, we have been operating for two years now, and since May, our stats have hit the roof. We are getting to the point where we can't afford it. We are paying out in excess of $2,000 to pay for volunteers to drive disabled people around. To go back to HRD year after year and expect that they are going to back us, the type of money that we are going to need, is a pipe dream. They are not going to do that. I don't blame them.
We went to the municipality this year, and we said to them, transportation and transit is a municipal responsibility, it is under your mandate to provide this, despite spending. I think Kings Transit Authority's budget this year is $450,000 and they are totally disregarding the needs of the disabled, especially people who are in wheelchairs. Unfortunately, despite the accolades of the members and the need for the service, they turned us down. It has been really
disappointing, because it is what they should be providing and to think that there are not a lot of disabled people out there is just a false belief. We will go back again this year, but again, to talk more about HRD and the need for partners, we see Community Services as one of the partners.
We do not believe that one agency or service should be solely responsible for providing transportation to the disabled, that it needs to be a partnership type of arrangement. It has to be partnering between HRD and the employment people and Health and Community Services and the municipality.
Allowing a non-profit agency to do that allows us to also tap into the members to provide for themselves and empower themselves to do so. So the membership is used to lobby money in terms of fund-raising. We are able to go to service clubs, to the businesses and stuff like that so it keeps it out of the hands of any major organization. If the municipality was to take it over, it would be a municipal service. They would have their hands tied in terms of being able to generate other funding sources. As of June, we have been a non-profit society. We are on our own and we believe that is the way it should be. We serve the members, we do not serve the municipality or Community Services; we serve everybody. It is very easy to be a member. All you have to be is disabled, and you are a member.
To date, we have not turned a lot of people down in terms of what their needs are in terms of transportation. They call and they need a drive, whether it is to their doctor's appointment, whether it is for a job, whether it is just to do their grocery shopping, we are there to provide it. In terms of empowering people and having people feel an amount of dignity and respect for themselves, getting out and being able to be part of the community is essential.
Just to highlight the barrier that transportation poses for these people, we hear stories day in and day out of what people have not been able to do because they have not had a drive. People who have not seen doctors in years because they are in a wheelchair and there is no way they can afford an ambulance to go to the doctor. That is what it amounts to, an ambulance, to go to a doctor. It is sad, because in our community there is a lot of transportation that could be provided. There is a rehab out there that has oodles of resources; there are nursing homes that have vans parked, essentially for long lengths of time; there is the school board which has oodles of buses; and there are a lot of small agencies, which are funded by Community Services, which do transportation on their own and provide it to their own membership.
The one thing that we say is essential is that you have one person who sort of coordinates that, who taps into all of these other people and provides a better bang for their buck. We made presentations to Community Services saying that we want to be those people. We want people to call us first and we will keep track of where all the drives are going. The government has an initiative called CBTAP, Community Based Transportation Action Plan,
and we were able, luckily, to convince them to invest $15,000 into our service this year. One of the things we are going to do with it is develop a website. Actually, the website has been created and now we have a website saying where the drives are going so people can log on and see where our drives are going, where the VON's drives are going and anybody else who wants to tap into that can log where their drives are going, too, so as to best utilize the little bit of drives that are happening out in the community.
Other than that, I don't have much else. I find it better that I just go off the cuff rather than read you a script, so if you have any questions, feel free.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mike. I want to tell you that this is a learning experience for us as well. Actually, I must tell you that you brought something to my attention that I obviously didn't know, that there was funding for a Community Based Transportation Action Plan. Where does that funding come from? Does that come from the Department of Community Services?
MR. MIKE HENRI: It is a joint effort actually. If memory strikes me correct, it comes from Housing and Municipal Affairs. There is a board that oversees it, and I think there is a membership from Health, a membership from Community Services.
MR. PYE: I just want to tell you as well, as a member, as a disabled person as well, I find it appalling that public transportation, particularly in communities where in fact the population base allows or at least should provide for public transportation for disabled persons, Access-A-Bus services and so on is not provided. I think that we are living in a time where we can expect government to provide some of those very basic services. I want to commend you and the volunteer organization for at least volunteering your services to provide that service, but I can certainly see, as of September 1998 in your final report, that you have enlisted 146 members. You are well over $2,500, and I see that as just providing for the paid volunteers and the gasoline to put in the vehicles.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Yes.
MR. PYE: It is very basic. I do know that you are trying your best, but I want to come back to the Kings County transportation, I guess it would be the Kings County transportation authority?
MR. MIKE HENRI: The transit authority, yes.
MR. PYE: I want to come back to your question. You said that you made a request or a proposal to them with respect to providing public transit to disabled individuals and you were turned down.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Flat.
MR. PYE: Can I ask you the reason for your being turned down?
MR. MIKE HENRI: It was very difficult to get a reason. All it was a paper chase initially. I won't speak highly of the people. What happened is, we made presentation to them, they were very supportive, they looked at, they said, that is great, let's vote on it right now. Oh, maybe not, let's consider it. Then we got a letter saying that they referred us on to the transit authority, that they were going to decline our request, but refer us on to the transit authority.
We went to the transit authority, only for them to say, we have no money, how dare they refer you on to us, because we run a deficit, and we end up having to go back to them for more money. We went back to the municipality, only for them to say, sorry, no.
MR. PYE: So you didn't go to the transportation authority, you went to the municipality first.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Yes.
MR. PYE: And made your presentation to the town council.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Yes.
MR. PYE: The town council then referred you to the transit authority. I would like you to do me, at least, a favour, as a member of this committee. I would like you to go back to your town council and to your transportation authority, and ask them to draft you off a letter indicating the reasons why they cannot provide public transportation to disabled persons.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Yes. We do have letters on file. It just essentially says, sorry, we can't fund your initiative. We don't have a reason, and we could get that.
MR. PYE: I would greatly appreciate receiving copies of that. Thank you.
MR. MUIR: You answered part of my question when you answered Mr. Pye's, the money that is spent, you pay the gas money for the volunteers.
MR. MIKE HENRI: Yes.
MR. MUIR: Yes. Do you have an Access-A-Bus?
MR. MIKE HENRI: No. Oh, excuse me, we do. On Wednesday afternoons, Grandview Manor, which is a nursing home, has graciously allowed us to use their Access-A-Bus.
MR. MUIR: You don't own any vehicles?
MR. MIKE HENRI: We are $10,000 closer to one, and we have proposals out.
MR. MUIR: The reason I was wondering, I have in my pocket, a letter from a group called the Life Improvement for the Disabled in my home community, which has just had their bus taken off the road because there is no money for it. I just wanted to mention it.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I would just like to understand. Kings County Transit Authority, do they have buses running within the . . .
MR. MIKE HENRI: Very, expensive ones, yes. I don't know how many they have, I think they have two or three. To be a cynic, they run half-empty all the time, well, almost all empty all the time.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I am trying to understand. On your routes, the people you are picking up are not on their routes?
MR. MIKE HENRI: Initially, we went to the transit authority and the transit people and we said we don't want to be a conflict of interest. You are running a good service in the towns and it does not make sense that we would duplicate that. After we went to council and we requested their support and they turned us down, we have been accepting drives. We do not even look at where the bus goes any more. People who are disabled call us, they are members. If they are on the bus route, we don't care any more. Because we didn't get any support from them, we don't feel obligated to consider where the buses are going and we just respect our membership in terms of what their needs are.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any other questions or comments?
That was very interesting.
Our next presenter is Valerie Rafuse.
MS. VALERIE RAFUSE: My name is Valerie Rafuse. First, I would like to publicly thank Ms. Raven and Mary DeWolfe for their wonderful and very professional presentations. As I was sitting listening to Ms. Raven and Mary and the lady in the pink jacket, I was growing increasing nauseous. As I said, I was appalled and am appalled and from my own experiences I am appalled at the way we, in this wonderful country, are treating some of our citizens.
First off, and I am actually here representing my daughter, I would like to read a letter that she wrote.
Dear committee members, Unfortunately, I am unable to read this to you in person, but I have a six month old who has a very specific bedtime. I have been informed this meeting is about social assistance and its reform. Until six months ago, I was of the opinion that social assistance came readily to whomever and was indiscriminate as to what you did while you were on assistance or with the allotted monies that you received. Were my eyes opened. For the last six months I have called, applied, been visited, called and called again for my $221 that I am currently receiving to assist me in caring for my son.
Never before have I felt so humiliated. This whole experience has left me begging for some help, financially, from an organization that is, granted, overworked, but after receiving the same answers week after week, you begin to feel devalued as a person. I am constantly under stress, worrying about whether I will have enough for formula, diapers, rice cereal and baby food for my son, as well as the added expense of new or newer clothes for him since he has outgrown almost every sleeper he owns. Frenchy's do not carry a wide variety of sleepers for a baby, nor do I have the luxury of a car or surplus of money to offer for gas so someone can drive me or so I can take my father's vehicle.
I am left to wonder if anyone running or supervising this system could raise a growing child on $221 a month. I have managed, gone without and depended on my parents for assistance. Thankfully, I have two caring, supportive parents, who have bought some diapers, some cases of formula and some sleepers for me, but it is not my parent's responsibility to support us. To go back to work I would have virtually nothing. It is $18 to $35 a day for day care and I only make $6.00 an hour and have a casual position. I would like for you to know that I have travelled the world and never before have I felt so useless, until I have encountered this system. It is with a heavy heart to think that I am depending on this system to help me out until I can get on my feet again and take care of my son on my own.
That letter is from a very intelligent, courageous, strong wonderful, single mother.
I, too, am guilty of having felt that social assistance came easy and was an easy way for people to get money. I have not had, nor has my family had much experience, personally, with having to receive government assistance, and I thank God for that. As a grandmother, I am very concerned, and I am very angry as a taxpayer and as a voter. I feel I have been fed a lot of government propaganda. I hear phrases like, our government is working to eliminate child poverty, a definite myth. I have also heard phrases glibly spoken as, we are working hard to eliminate child abuse in this country. Again, that is not true.
If anyone questions my feelings on that, I would like to say to you that a single mother who has no income, who has just gone through the trauma of giving birth, who is emotionally depleted, then comes home, if they have a home to go to, fortunately, our daughter did, but
I also think of the many young women who don't, who are not allowed back in their homes, or who have to go home under very stressful situations, because they have parents who are very disapproving.
When you then add to that the stress of caring for a newborn child who cries many hours of the day, who is very high maintenance, you have an explosive situation. I would challenge anybody to tell me that I am wrong. My grandson was lactose intolerant, so he cried for a minimum of eight hours a day, 8 to 12 usually, eight on a good day. We were there to at least spell her, take over. When we found out part of his problem, then we could do something about that.
I am so angry, so angry that I can't even articulate my feelings. That is something for me, because I usually have no problem expressing myself. I am very angry that in a country as developed and prosperous as Canada, we are allowing young women to be put in this terrible situation. Number one, they need money. I don't know if anybody here, well, obviously people here are expected to live on $200 and less a month, and that appalls me too, because you can't feed yourself on that kind of money a month. I have been told over and over again, for years and years, that the majority of my tax dollars was going to support people on welfare. That definitely is not true, and I will tell you, I am screaming that from the rooftops now. If nothing else, it has opened my eyes to the desperate position that this government, the Government of Canada, is putting young single women in.
They need education. If criminals who commit heinous crimes can get a free education, there should be no question as to us supporting young mothers, single mothers into getting their education, whether it be university or trade school or community college, it should just be done. If it is not, then shame on us. Too bad they haven't gone out and killed someone so that then they can go and have all of this provided for them. That is the message that is getting out there.
Most of these young women do not have vehicles, they don't have good paying jobs, a lot of them are in school. A lot of them, some of them, don't even have a license. Instead of telling them about their mistake, because I will tell you, that was said to me once about, well, you know, it was a mistake. I said, don't ever call my beautiful grandson a mistake. He is not a mistake, never was, never will be. That is another way, we have sort of, it is the punishment. You were bad and now we are going to punish you. Your mistake is your child, your mistake is getting pregnant and how we are going to punish you. Part of that punishment is that we are not going to give you an adequate allowance to support yourself and your child. As a grandmother, as a mother, as a taxpayer, and a voter, I say that this must stop. If I have anything to do with it, it will or will certainly cause a lot of problems for the government. Thank you.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Valerie. When you say that your daughter is receiving, I believe a little over $200 a month, I don't know the exact number, $230 a month . . .
MS. RAFUSE: Actually I think now, with the child tax credit, it is $370.
MR. PYE: . . . can I ask you, is she living with you?
MS. RAFUSE: She is. Other than living on the street, she doesn't have any choice.
MR. PYE: So that is the reason for the level of benefit she is receiving from Community Services.
MS. RAFUSE: Well, if that is the reason for the level of benefits . . .
MR. PYE: Is that what you are telling me?
MS. RAFUSE: I don't know, I assume.
MR. PYE: Yes. My guess is that it is probably the reason. They are assuming that you should absorb some of that cost, unfairly however it may be, I guess that is the assumption they are taking.
MS. RAFUSE: Well my daughter is 25 years old and because we are a family unit that cares, we are helping as much as we can but, I will tell you something, if the government expects us to absorb the cost of caring for our grandson and our daughter they had better lay off my taxes.
MR. PYE: Yes. I just wanted to know if in fact when your daughter made application for benefits and social assistance, then obviously they must have asked her where she was living and that had to be calculated.
MS. RAFUSE: I will tell you that when she left the hospital she was getting nothing and she got nothing for several months.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. MOODY: Valerie, I know from other calls that I have gotten, and I mentioned earlier, once you got on the system your cheque would come each month. I am told by single moms who are living at home that some of them are even getting less than $221 if you want to believe.
MS. RAFUSE: I can believe anything at this point.
MR. MOODY: That is what I found out just recently and no more do they get the cheque every month.
MS. RAFUSE: That is right.
MR. MOODY: You have to go through all this procedure . . .
MS. RAFUSE: Every month.
MR. MOODY: Now what is going to change? You have a child, and what is going to change in the next number of months? Each month goes by, you have got to track down the social worker, they will calculate what it is they are going to give you and then you go through that every month now, instead of saying you are eligible for x number of dollars a month, each month, and we will send you out a cheque. Not so, is that true?
MS. RAFUSE: That is right and I think that is part of the punishment that they are inflicting on these young women.
MR. MOODY: It is not supposed to be. That has only come to be since the change over from municipal to provincial now. Obviously, some of us who have worked in the system or dealt with the system have found out that is what is happening. It appears that that is going to continue until the government decides what the policy is, because the workers are saying your daughter can't get on family benefits now, she will have to go on the month to month until they decide what to do. Is that what you are hearing?
MS. RAFUSE: Yes, that is, in effect, what is happening.
MR. MOODY: That is a terrible situation because I have had other calls that are very similar, the very same situation as your daughter is in; that is just starting to occur.
MS. RAFUSE: Yes, I believe that and I think it is disgraceful that this government is allowed to do this, and I don't just mean the Liberal Government. I am very jaded as far as governments are concerned. I realize a lot of good people have gotten into politics and once they are there, unfortunately, we hear one thing as voters and taxpayers, but when it comes down to actions, very seldom are the promises upheld. When I see commercials now talking about how the government cares for children in this country, I think, what a lie. How many of us are believing that and listening to that? I will tell you, it is time now for people to get out and say, you hear that? They are liars. Ask the government, ask the government workers to live off of $221, or $500 a month, and I wouldn't work for $500 a month. I am sure none of you would.
I think with a little bit of common sense, it would be very easy for the government to rectify this problem, because anybody knows, living in our country today, it is impossible to live on that kind of money. This is a little bit of anger, but I plan to generate lots. Lots and lots, because there are committees struck one after another, but very little ever comes out of
it. Very seldom do the people who need the results, get the results that are needed. Any other questions?
MR. PYE: Well, Valerie, I want to say that I thank you for coming tonight because, obviously, despite what you think about government and so on, obviously you must have some confidence in this standing committee that is before you this evening . . .
MS. RAFUSE: Actually, I have confidence in myself and what I will try to do, more so than government. I am sorry about that.
MR. PYE: Okay, then, can I ask you, you have made the presentation here tonight on behalf of your daughter as well . . .
MS. RAFUSE: And myself.
MR. PYE: . . . and yourself. Can I ask you if you have any confidence that in fact this Standing Committee on Social Assistance Reform in Nova Scotia is going to come back with some positive reforms, policies?
MS. RAFUSE: I can only say this: I will believe it when I see it, and when the people who need it, experience it. I work in a high school, and I see a lot of young mothers. I talked to a young girl today who is absolutely terrified, and it made me even more angry. These are potential voters; these are the people of the future. My daughter is already a voter, but these other young women are potential voters, and this should not be a punishment. We should be giving these young women every vehicle for success that they need, so that they can be productive members. These are good people and they are good parents. They are really working with a handicap, because there are not too many of us who can live a good, full, productive life with no money. Thank you.
MS. ATWELL: Jerry asked my question, so I got the answer through the question he asked. Thank you.
MS. RAFUSE: I really hope that you will prove me wrong, I really do. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: I have one comment before you leave. I just want to make the remark that the history of social welfare in countries around the world actually is a history of social movements that have actually done a lot of work to put pressure on governments and people in Parliaments, to make change. Your cynicism, I guess, or your skepticism is well-placed and it is duly noted.
MS. RAFUSE: Well, we won't use pepper spray, but we will use words.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Our next presenter is Debra Reimer.
MS. DEBRA REIMER: Hi. I work with the Annapolis Valley-Hants Community Action Program for Children, and I work with a lot of single mothers. I had no intention of getting up here and talking, so I am going to keep this really brief, but I wanted to address some of the questions that have come up tonight because there are some misconceptions here and I really want to clear those up.
MR. MUIR: Debra, what organization did you represent? The Annapolis Valley . . .
MS. REIMER: The Annapolis Valley-Hants Community Action Program for Children.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MS. REIMER: Someone earlier asked about a reduction in the number of family benefits recipients, and I just wanted to talk about that for a minute. About two years ago, it started taking a lot longer for people to access family benefits. It was taking up to a year and one-half prior to April 1, 1998; after April 1, 1998, people were being told that family benefits was collapsing and that this new system was coming into play. So when people went to access assistance, being put in positions where they needed to do that, they were given income assistance and told that these are the rules now.
For example, I worked with one young mom who became a single mom after April 1st and she was going to school at the time. She was planning to enter her second year at Kingstec in September and was told that if she intended to do that, she would no longer be eligible for income assistance, that she would have to access a student loan and have to pay for everything herself. Now, that is not true, that is a lie. You can still access family benefits, you just have to know that and you have to get the application and send it in yourself. So people are not being told the truth. They may be lied to outright by being told that they aren't eligible to or cannot apply for family benefits which has happened, or they may just not be being told that they can apply for family benefits. So they aren't really being lied to, they just aren't being told that this is still available.
There was also discussion around the amount of benefits that people are receiving and some question about an increase in that. Let me tell you that in Kings County that is absolutely not true. There is no increase; in fact, there are still two streams of funding at this point. If you go onto income assistance you will still receive the municipal level of funding, which means that as a single mom with a child you will receive approximately $755 if you are living on your own. If you are a single mom and you are under the age of 19, you will receive $83 after the birth of your child. After three months they allow you a clothing allowance and you will receive $113, so for the first three months of your child's life, you do not receive a clothing allowance.
If you are over 19 and still living at home, they will not help you change your situation so you must remain at home and that does create a lot of tension. I don't know if any of you lived with your parents but I can tell you that when you are in a position where you are a parent yourself, you do have conflict with raising your child; maybe your ways are different. That causes a lot of tension in families and it is not the way that it needs to happen. A family of two adults and one child in Kings County will receive $922 to live on. With the incentive program it goes up to $1,022. That is not a lot of money to live on.
Traditionally, family benefits was higher than municipal benefits and once you, as a single parent or a disabled person, started receiving family benefits, your cheque did go up; however, that is not the case at this point in time. They are streaming people and they have a stream one, stream two, stream three and stream four. Do you know this? If you are a stream one, then they will put you right into work; stream two, you have 12 months; stream three, a little bit longer; and stream four, you are a write-off.
Women are being discouraged from breastfeeding their newborn children because they are being told when they go to income assistance that once their child is - one woman in particular was told that she was very lucky to be pregnant because if she wasn't pregnant she would be off the system, but because she is she will be kept on until her child is six months old, at which time she will be streamed toward gainful employment.
Another woman whose child is two months old has already received a letter telling her that she has to appear at a meeting designed to determine her needs to secure employment. There was no offer for child care or transportation and she doesn't have a car, but as stated in the policy in existence now, the Income Assistance and Employment Support Policy, if she did not attend the meeting, she is at risk of losing her benefits. This is the reality that is out there at the present time. There are more. I could give you more examples, but just to set you straight on what is going on out there right now, I thought that it was really important that you hear this.
MR. MOODY: Debra, thank you very much. I guess in following up the calls, I am just finding out that those are changes that have occurred under the new system. I do not think any worker is lying, but one of the workers said to me when the single mom said they don't want me to apply for family benefits, and when I asked the worker, they say, well, we don't know whether she will get it or not because we do not know what the government's policy is going to be. We are told not to encourage anybody to apply for family benefits so then they cannot get the other benefits that they should get, if they want to go to school or whatever.
I thought the old system was bad and you are working in the system, Debra, but would you say this new system is not even as good as the old system for these people in some ways, or is it that they are not getting the information? I am getting confused because, in trying to
assist these people, I am finding the rules have changed but there is no policy that the rules have changed.
MS. REIMER: I think that right now the Income Assistance and Employment Support Policy is, from my understanding, not a policy. It has not gone through legislation. It is interim.
MR. MOODY: But they are using it.
MS. REIMER: They are using it and as of April 1st they started using it and so they are using it as if it was real. It is not. So what they are doing is not talking about family benefits at this point and they are discouraged, but I do know that there are cases of workers saying to people, you can no longer apply for family benefits, knowing that that is not the case. I also know that there are workers who are just not saying that you can.
MR. MOODY: No, because when I challenged the worker, they say, well, yes, they can, but why should I have to challenge the worker? Most people do not know.
MS. REIMER: Exactly. People are not being given the correct information. I do know that if you do challenge the system, you can still get on family benefits, and if you challenge it enough, you can do it fairly quickly.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Debra. I am the gentleman who brought it up in the first place with respect to reducing the number of individuals on family benefits. I believe, internally, the department, in fact, uses a term for it called purging. I believe that it is simply used to cover off your three streams that you are talking about. If, in fact, they fed into the stream, it automatically cuts them out of getting family benefits, and you are absolutely right with respect to that. What I have been doing, and I think that you have not said you are doing it, but I think in the comments, what I can read between the lines, is I am telling the people to make application for the family benefits and if they are denied, to appeal the process. All at the same time, while they are through that, Community Services cannot deny anyone assistance, so therefore, they are on the income assistance plan until such time as that comes through. You do have to backup here and that is what I want to tell you.
The other streams are, as you have said, through education or being employable, and they are using those, from the information that I am receiving, and I represent an area where, in fact, there is a huge number of people who, in fact, are on social services. I like to think that I have some experiences in this field. I want to tell you that, in fact, I am pleased to hear that, in fact, there are other well-informed individuals out there. In fact, it would be a pleasure to have you onside sometimes with respect to just some of the things that I did not know that you brought forward here this evening. Thank you.
MS. REIMER: Can I just for one second speak to the streaming and the education? Certainly this policy does speak to education and training for job readiness; however, the policy also talks about any courses or any kind of education that is student loan eligible being equal to ineligibility then for assistance. That is a huge problem because in Nova Scotia, for example, if you have a single mom with two children who wants to obtain her Early Childhood Education Certificate, that is two years' worth of education, she would have to borrow approximately $30,000 to do that to live. At the end of that two years, she would then owe approximately $30,000. In Nova Scotia, she would be making approximately $8.00 an hour, because in Nova Scotia, childcare does not bring home big dollars.
So, if you were a single mother with two children, would you borrow $30,000, to end up working in a job that was going to make you $8.00 an hour? Think about it.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Debra, I am glad you came along tonight, for awhile I was scared I was working in the wrong system, or working in a different system some place. In the last couple of months, I have dealt with two or three cases, one being a young lady that was at odds with the family and she has had her child, and we had to find her alternative arrangements. I had no problem in accessing the system, there was no great problem to it, and they offered either side, if she wanted to room and board with another family, or if she wanted to go independently on her own.
I guess, I truly understand that the dollars that are available, they are not what we would like them to be in any case. I think it is one of the hardest parts that we have in society today, trying to access enough dollars for the lower income side and provide enough. I feel we are moving in some of the right directions, maybe we have to work through the systems for a while to retune them and redo them, but the income or the incentive system is one that I always felt would be a workable system. I know it has flaws in it, and maybe the spread is not great enough, and that we are clawing back too much of the person's wage when they get out in the workforce. We have to provide the support for them when they are out there, for their child as far as homecare or childcare.
Do you feel that it is basically, are we moving ahead some, or are we getting worse, are we . . .
MS. REIMER: You know what, I think we are moving sideways.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We are going sideways.
MS. REIMER: I don't think we are moving ahead at this point, I think we are moving sideways. I think that looking at restructuring the system is a huge positive. I do, but I think that we really need to talk to people who are working out there and people who are living in
it, who are there, who are experiencing it, and who can tell you, without fear of repercussion, what it is really like.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Thank you.
MR. MUIR: You had mentioned earlier Debra, when they are going to the extremes, you mentioned the single mother after two months, or something like that, they put her in an employment stream. Were you speaking positively or negatively of that?
MS. REIMER: I am speaking very negatively.
MR. MUIR: And why?
MS. REIMER: Because I think this is a woman whose baby is two months old. Health Canada recommends that children be breastfed for at least six months, preferably a year, longer if you can do it. The World Health Organization recognizes the benefits of breastfeeding, and yet we are creating a system that is undermining that.
MR. MUIR: I wasn't quite sure, because a number of the presentations that we have received have talked about transition help to remove people from assistance into the world of employment, and I didn't quite understand why you were speaking . . .
MS. REIMER: I do think that transition help is an important component in any restructuring. I do think that hearing what people want to do with their lives is also a really positive thing to incorporate into the policy. For example, if you have a single mom who is told that she is to take this course so that she can do this job, chances are, she is not going to be nearly as successful as if she sits down with you and talks about what her hopes are, what her dreams are, and then is assisted in reaching those goals. There will be far more success with a program that encourages that, than a program that encourages work fare.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. I just want to make one point in support of Mr. [Charles] MacDonald's comments. He was expressing his experience of finding the system quite responsive when he calls. I have to say that I have also found the system quite responsive when I call. In fact, it has been quite amazing to me how responsive the system is when they get a call from an MLA, versus the way the response was that I would get when I called as a social worker or as an advocate when I worked in either Legal Aid or in a community health clinic. So it does make me question, I guess, on some level what must it be then for people who are in a situation as some of the presenters here tonight, where they don't have the information and they don't have the power as well. They are not situated powerfully in terms of trying to gain access to resources and information.
MS. REIMER: Can I just respond to that? I think that my experience has been that as well. People can move through the system with a strong advocate who maybe knows the system or knows who to call. My comment though is I guess it really saddens me that that is the case. All persons should have equal access. Their accessibility to programs should not increase because they have an advocate at their side. Everyone is entitled and so that needs to be built in too. While the policy says that people are treated with respect and dignity, I do not believe that is the case.
MR. GORDON BALSER: As a person who works in the system and is fairly knowledgeable of its workings, can the system be restructured to work effectively with the tinkering that appears to be going on or does it, as an earlier presenter suggested, need to be re-built from the ground up?
MS. REIMER: My sense is re-build it from the ground up. I am not suggesting for one second that you totally reinvent the wheel. There are things that are in this policy that are okay and there are things that are in the other policies or other Acts that are okay and maybe you need to pull those out and incorporate those. But I think you need to go back to the table and you need to talk to people who really know what it is like out there instead of kind of looking at things and saying, if we do this or we do that then it might work better. We need to look at revamping the system and that means tearing it apart to the bones and starting over, I think.
MR. GORDON BALSER: What do you suspect is driving the agenda for change at this particular point in time? I am just curious because I have own opinion.
MS. REIMER: Well, I think there are a number of things, a lot of it, I think, is political. I also do think that there is a recognition that we need change in the system and as I stated earlier, I think that is a positive thing. I am just not sure that we quite know what that change needs to be and in order to find out what that change needs to be we need to listen to people's experiences.
MR. GORDON BALSER: The difficult will be gleaning the direction from all of the various bits of information.
MS. REIMER: But I think that if you truly listen to people's experiences you will find that there are a lot of similarities and that those can be addressed.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further questions or comments?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: May I say, Madam Chair, I was not always an MLA and I accessed the system a long time before I was an MLA. In all my 25 years in public life I never had a problem accessing the system and that went through many different forms of government. I don't sit here tonight and say that was because I was an MLA.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, very much. At this point we have no one else left on our agenda but it has been our practice to just ask one more time before we adjourn if there are any other members of our audience who would like to make a presentation? Mr. Coleman, you have one more . . .
MR. COLEMAN: Yes, I just wondered why Community Services, when you need glasses, that they turn you down and you have to go to the Lions Club, or someplace like that, when they say there is no money. Another thing, too, I think I mentioned before, my grandson was taken from his home and he was placed with me and then he went with my other daughter and then he went with his grandmother and she cannot get any money at all for that boy; he is 16 years old. Why can't she get some money? I would like to know why.
Why won't Community Services give her some money so she can pay for his school books, his clothes and food? It was no fault of his. He was removed from his house. Community Services removed him when he was eight years old. I looked after him for four years or more, but I couldn't do it any more on account of my health and he was placed with my other daughter and her health is not good and now he is with his grandmother, who used to be my wife, but that is all over. She works part time and Community Services will not give her one cent for that child.
MADAM CHAIR: It is probably because they calculate his eligibility for assistance based on her income.
MR. COLEMAN: Do you know why it is? I'll tell you why it is. My wife - used to be, we are divorced and that is eight years over - was a Native woman. It is discrimination, one of the worst discriminations. I can't help it, but I am going to say it, there is Native blood in me, but I don't look it. It was discrimination against her and I know it because right in here and over there, when that child was removed - I won't name the person, she is not there now, but she has heard about it - you can't get any help from the Chief and Council in Cambridge because he doesn't live on the reserve. He lives in New Minas and he is going to Robbie Harrison's Cadillac school. He is going there to a Cadillac school with hardly any money, hardly any food and hardly any clothes, only what she can give him and what we can give him. I don't have any money.
That is the worst discrimination I have ever seen in my life. It makes me sick to my stomach. A rich country like Canada. The same way with our veterans. I was in the military and I know what it is like when they have millions of dollars for the Senate up there, but they don't have any money for Canadians. Over 200,000 people in Toronto, and right here in
Kentville they are sleeping on the streets and have to go down to the church or the police go pick them up. It is not the fault of the police. They have to do their job. They are sleeping on the street. In Waterville they are sleeping on the streets. I know. I meet all kinds of people.
It makes you sick to your stomach and I am going to ask you fellows once more, why can't that child get any help? The grandmother doesn't make hardly any money.
MADAM CHAIR: I guess the answer is that there is a failure in public policy.
MR. COLEMAN: It is a failure, all right.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Is it in public policy or is it the people who are delivering the system?
MR. COLEMAN: It is the worst system that I ever saw. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
[The committee adjourned at 10:45 p.m.]