MADAM CHAIR: Good morning. Let's get under way. We have people here from the department and I am sure they are anxious to begin on time. Welcome. Perhaps what we can do is just do a quick round of introductions around the table and then we can proceed.
[The members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: Before we begin with a presentation from the Department of Community Services, I am going to make a request that in our deliberations people refer to me as either a Chairperson or a Chairwoman or a Chair and not Chairman. I noticed in the minutes from the first meeting that we had, that consistently through that record I was referred to as the Chairman and I am obviously not a man.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Was that me?
MADAM CHAIR: Well, I don't know exactly . . .
MR. MOODY: Well, if it was, I will try to improve.
MADAM CHAIR: No, it wasn't any particular person and I know this has been the tradition but it has been the tradition for a particular reason, I guess, so maybe we will change that tradition now because we have other reasons to do so.
I would like to welcome Ron L'Esperance, the Deputy Minister of Community Services. Perhaps you would like to introduce to the members of the committee your two colleagues.
MR. RON L'ESPERANCE: Thank you very much, Madam Chairperson. Barb Burley is the Acting Administrator of the Income and Employment Support Division in the department. It is a big division. Roughly 80 per cent of the department's budget goes through that division. Peter Barteaux is the Project Manager for the Social Assistance Restructuring Initiative.
MADAM CHAIR: Well, as you know, this committee is very interested in examining the process of social assistance reform and restructuring which has been under way and is ongoing. We felt that it would really assist us in planning for our deliberations, which we are hoping will include public hearings around the province, to hear from the department first and get a sense of what has occurred and open the discussion with yourselves, who have been intimately involved. So thank you very much and I understand you have a presentation.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: We do, Madam Chairperson. Let me first say, by way of introduction, that we are very pleased to be here. This has been a very complex and important undertaking, a ground-breaking undertaking for the province, really, in that, as you know, we have had, roughly for 30 years, very similar structures in Nova Scotia for social service delivery. I think we would all agree that they do need to be modernized, improved and enhanced and some of the early work that we have done has really been directed toward that end.
Madam Chairperson, I have roughly about a 30 minute presentation and then we would be delighted to take questions. We are entirely at your whim here. If you wish to ask questions during the presentation, I am quite comfortable with that, as well. I would far rather stand than sit while making a presentation but in deference to the recording, I will sit and see what we can do.
By way of introduction, insofar as there are a number of new MLAs at the Community Services Committee table and again, let me say at the outset, I think this committee has been dormant for a period of time. It hasn't been sitting for a while and I am delighted, actually, that it is back in business because I think in many ways the committee can be an important ally for the department. These are tough issues, they are very difficult issues. They are issues around which it is very difficult to get consensus. There are as many views out there as there are people who are canvassed so I think we are always pleased to get whatever assistance we can.
What I thought I would do first, I thought I would do one, two or three slides related to the department overall, just to give the new members a sense of what our department is about and more importantly, about three slides in there is a pie graph that outlines where we spend the budget of the department. So I thought it would be a good context piece for the committee to understand what we do.
In essence, the mission of the department is to ensure that the basic needs of Nova Scotians are met, to protect children and adults at risk, and to support people in moving toward self-sufficiency.
Our strategic goals, and this material you would no doubt be familiar with, it is taken from the department's business plan in terms of the government-wide business planning initiative. The strategic goals of the department are to provide an equitable and fair income assistance system for Nova Scotians in need that supports self-sufficiency. I think the key words there are equitable and fair. Some of the work that we have done in the last couple of years has really been designed around trying to introduce, at least in the existing system - and we still have a two-tiered system - a degree of equity and fairness that didn't exist before.
Reducing risks to vulnerable children, adults and families. As members will know, we have on the child welfare side, Child Protection Services and on the adult side, Adult Protection Services.
Minimize costs to government and society through programs that offer cost-effective services that prevent social and health problems. On that point I think it is important to note that all jurisdictions, all government departments, are attempting to try to develop programs that both make good sense from the social policy sense but which also meet the fiscal requirements of the province. I think we are acutely aware that in many ways we have kind of just turned the corner in terms of the fiscal situation in Nova Scotia and, obviously, the costs associated with some of our programs are very given to ups and downs, vicissitudes. We operate under open-ended legislation. Child welfare legislation is open-ended. The Children and Family Services Act and the income assistance and Family Benefits Act, it is all open-ended legislation.
If you qualify, if you have a child who needs to be apprehended, government must apprehend the child, must provide the appropriate services. If you have a situation where somebody applies for assistance, it must be provided if they meet the criteria. So managing budget in that kind of context is a real challenge because I think we all recognize, particularly on the short-term social assistance side, it is very much sensitive to local economic conditions. If you have a situation where, for example, a plant goes down or a primary employer goes down, and I would cite the example of let us say Richmond County a couple of years ago, when the fish plant, the big fish plant in Isle Madame went down, Richmond County's social assistance costs in that period of time spiked up 35 per cent, 40 per cent, 50 per cent, depending on the month. So it is a very significant challenge in terms of trying to manage budget in that particular situation.
Our key programs, there are two key program divisions within the department, the Income and Employment Support Division, and it deals with really three key program areas, the whole income assistance package, so that includes both family benefits, income assistance, Pharmacare, seniors' property tax rebate type programs, all the programs that come under the
Seniors Citizens' Financial Aid Act, and the community supports for the adult side is really geared toward providing adult protection and the whole range of licensed, and unlicensed residential service options, ranging from community-based options on the unlicensed side to regional rehabilitation centres, adult residential centres.
It also in that section includes day programs, vocational support services. Many of you would know those as sheltered workshops, sheltered industries for mentally challenged and physically challenged people. It also includes a section that deals with employment support services. Within our Family and Children's Services Division, the biggest part of that division is the child welfare and residential service side. Child welfare includes our partnership with 14 Children's Aid Societies around the province. Six of the 20 total agency sites are operated by the department. There are department offices and a range of residential services for children that need to be placed outside the home.
There is the Prevention in Child Care Services section, prevention services. We are implementing a number of new programs associated with prevention. Our overall objective there is trying to move our services away from crisis intervention and that sort of thing and more toward trying to help people, try to intervene with families who are likely to be at risk prior to things degenerating to the point where it requires a kind of crisis intervention.
Under the healthy child development side of the new National Child Benefit Program, you will note that there are a number of programs outlined there that are really designed to get to the issue of prevention. Healthy Start Nova Scotia is modelled to some extent but not completely on the successful Hawaii program. Obviously, there needs to be an adjustment for cultural differences but clearly there is a lot of work that we are trying to do in that area.
One of the challenges, and one of the things I would like to do today, is leave you with a sense as well of some of the challenges we are facing. One of the challenges you face in making that transition to the prevention service side is the fact that you have got all that program machinery that you have to run over here to deal with the crisis intervention and that sort of thing. It is finding dollars and finding money to invest in the prevention side at a time when the fiscal circumstances of the province are just coming out of the red.
The community outreach services side is a bundling of programs related to primarily family violence, spousal and women abuse. The transition houses come in under that rubric, womens' centres, men's treatment programs throughout the province, and the in-home support program for families who are maintaining children with a disability at home.
I think it is important to note for the committee, a couple of years ago we went through a major reorganization in the department. It stepped off the management audits that were done in the period following the next to last election and we went to a regional or a decentralized service delivery model. Our regions line up roughly coterminous
governmentally with health and so forth. There are four regions in the province, eastern, northern, central and southwest region.
Our core functions, I will run through these quickly because we have really covered that, providing financial assistance, employment support, protecting children and adults who are vulnerable. We do a lot of work with community-based agencies around the province. We have roughly 1,050 employees in the department. For every one employee we have deployed, there are nine others working in the social service field, either at a voluntary level or in the not-for-profit sector. We have had a tradition of having a strong working relationship with community-based organizations, service delivery partners, and so forth.
Another role, and this is part of the new role for the department's head office, is to really focus on the development of standards for programs and services. People are always interested in money and a picture is better than 1,000 words and all of that and basically you can see pretty well that the social assistance side, which Income and Employment Support Division at $446 million, is sort of, in our equivalent the monster that ate the New York subway. It is the biggy in the department.
Included in that is roughly $226 million worth of expenditures on family benefits, another $106 million, $107 million on income assistance, a further roughly $70 million on long-term care, and roughly $20 million on employment support type services. Within employment support, for example, there is roughly $6 million that goes to sheltered workshops, roughly $4 million that goes to work activity projects. So within that there is a bundling of a lot of programs. We also have copies of this presentation to circulate as well at the end so that you will have it.
The Family and Children's Services Division is the next largest division. It is just short of $100 million. Again, there is a fairly clear breakout within that division based on programs. Roughly $15 million, $16 million goes to Children's Aid Societies. The big accounts in that sector, maintenance of children in care and provision of protection services are really the two big cost-drivers in that area. You will note from looking around the country, and the issues that are emerging in many of the other jurisdictions, we have been fortunate - and we always knock wood when we say this - that we haven't had any big, extraordinary issues like child deaths, inquests, inquiries, that sort of thing.
Any system is fragile, the child welfare system is an area that has some fragility, there is no question about that, but we think that we are on the right track in a lot of those program areas. Fortunately, we are doing a fair bit of program review and restructuring in that sector, as well, and we have been able to do it without the cloud of inquests and that sort of thing hanging over us. I genuinely feel badly for a number of the provinces that are really struggling with this issue. It is quite difficult. It is a highly emotionally-charged public issue, anything to do with children is always gut-wrenching.
That is kind of a quick note, and you will note in the bottom left corner, that is the department's approved budget for the current fiscal year. Madam Chairperson, would you like to entertain any questions now on that section before we move on, because I am going to move into Social Assistance Restructuring, or do you want to hold them until the end?
MADAM CHAIR: I think we can hold them until the end.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Great. Just to remind people, and this is part of the build-up to the reason why we wanted to undertake the reform that we did. The history in Nova Scotia is that there has been a two-tiered delivery system, that wasn't that uncommon 20 years ago, but it has become increasingly uncommon.
In fact, as you know, there are only three jurisdictions in Canada that have a municipal relationship on the social services front. Ontario has chosen to go a different way than we have gone, and we think in real terms, that at least for a Nova Scotia context, that was not the answer, the route that Ontario chose.
Manitoba, we have kind of twinned ourselves in a way with Manitoba, because they are going through a similar situation to us. They are disentangling the municipal delivery system in Manitoba. They have chosen to begin with the Winnipeg metropolis area, which is their largest by far, I think 90 per cent of their short-term caseload is in the Winnipeg area. They have a business partnership with IBM Canada and are doing, in many ways on the technology front, some quite ground-breaking work in that area. But we have kind of been working together, comparing notes, helping each other out, and there has been a little bit of work on the staff exchange side, in terms of trying to learn from each other, because we are going through it roughly at the same time.
Manitoba will be hosting the next meeting of the deputies group across the country on welfare reform sometime in September, so I am quite looking forward to that. They have developed a competency centre out there with IBM Canada, around looking at some of the technology innovations. That is a very important component of the work that we are doing.
In Nova Scotia, we have had the history of services delivered by the municipalities, and that has resulted - and I don't think there is an elected MLA in this room who doesn't have a few stories about this one - in a wide variation in policies, rates, and benefits for people, and so forth. It is ahead in some areas, and I am not going to go into any detail about particular examples. It has had very perverse effects in communities. You have had people moving over county lines to get a different shelter component, and that sort of thing. It is just generally something that in the scheme of things we wanted to achieve.
I will share with you a little anecdote of a situation. Some years ago, I was out in one part of the province, and it was around the time the Federal-Provincial Employability Accord had just been signed, and we were setting up the network of employment support services,
the employment support service centres in each of the municipalities. I arrived in this particular place, and we were talking about how we might do this. I said, well, what is your current caseload on the municipal side? The guy said, well, there is none now. I said, what do you mean there is none now? He said, well, it is employment time. I said, what is employment time, what do you mean, does everybody have a job? He said, no, from May to September, we declare employment time, and everybody goes off the system.
That is just a little anecdote of what some of the issues are. I don't want to be, in any way, disrespectful of municipalities, because clearly municipalities have been an important partner with the province. But at the same time, there have been some real difficulties, there is no question about that.
The long-term program has been provincially operated, legislation in place for that starting about 1974. It is really not a modern program, it is really a program that is, frankly, highly inefficient. It has a difficult management model. Decisions are not made by individual workers, it is based on a categorical system; by that I simply mean that you have to be either a single parent, or a person with a disability to apply. The application process is quite Byzantine, quite complex, quite arcane. It has been a great program from the point of view that it has sustained a lot of families in this province over the years, so I don't want to denigrate it, but its time has come. I have some fundamental difficulty with the concept of a categorical system. It is not a modern concept. It denies the reality that 70 per cent of women work outside the home, and yet it is a kind of throwback to the post-war mother's allowance kind of program. Clearly it is one that we want to reform significantly.
Why are we doing what we are doing? What are the reasons for doing it? We want to make sure we establish fairness and equity, and we have chosen to look at that in two stages. The first stage which we will get into, really, is the takeover from the municipalities.
The system has been overly complex and quite inconsistent, and that goes back to the earlier points that I raised: two levels of government involved. There are real disincentives in the system to self-reliance. There are situations where it really is more favourable for people to stay on benefits, they are better off financially to stay on benefits. Disincentives is an area we will talk about a little bit later, so I am not going to say much about it now. As I have just noted, some of the programs truly are outdated.
You have things, for example in the FB program, you have that old spouse in the house rule which has been a real irritant for people. It has a kind of moral overlay to it that we are not comfortable with. Most provinces that have gone through restructuring have done so, gotten around that quite nicely. It gets around the same-sex benefits issue quite nicely, simply by looking at the economic unit, looking at the amount of income in a particular family unit, regardless of what that family configuration is. Now, the economic unit definition does circumscribe what comprises the family unit. At the same time there are lots of ways around some of the things that are fairly unattractive about some of our programs at the moment.
Again for context, I thought I would give you a little bit of an historical sense of what has happened here. In 1993-94, we had the provincial-municipal service exchange. The department seized on that opportunity to begin to do the municipal disentanglement. We felt that was a good opportunity. In the run-up to the establishment of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in August 1, 1995, we developed a bit of a pilot project down there to look at how we might look at restructuring overall in the province; took over Halifax region of Queens in April 1996; negotiated, in the fall of 1996 and winter of 1997, an agreement with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities for the transfer of these services to the province.
On April 1, 1998 we assumed responsibility for the whole shooting match, and as part of the contribution agreement with the UNSM - and this has long been a bone of contention and an irritant to the municipalities - we have reached an agreement for a phase-out of the municipal contribution over a five year period. It has been discounted by 15 per cent this year and then there is an actual discount that flows out over the course of the next several years.
What we have completed to date then is we have really harmonized. We have not, and there is some misunderstanding and there is some misinterpretation of this issue, rolled out new policy that is going to underpin social assistance for a one-tiered system. What we did was we harmonized policies, the rates and enhanced, in many cases, the rates and the policies that had existed across the province in the municipalities.
Now, you will appreciate that at the time that we began this process, there were 66 municipalities and in those 66 municipalities, there were over 40 separate social service policies that existed. Some of them had higher rates, some of them had lower rates, some of them had special needs provisions, some of them did not and so forth. So, the first stage of this was to make sure that we harmonized those policies and rates and came up with a standard package that was defensible, that was as progressive as we could make it given the fiscal parameters that we were in and so forth.
I want to talk in a little bit more detail about that because I think there are some important components of that, and I want this committee to understand those. We have now established a provincial standard so it no longer matters where you live. There is a standard package of benefits and services that are available to people. It introduced equity and policy and rates.
Now, 70 per cent of municipal clients who came in on April 1st, received an increase. The reality is that we will spend upwards of $10 million more this year on social assistance payments than we did last year. So, 70 per cent received an increase. It is also important to note that nobody received a decrease. There were a very small number of cases where there were anomalies. Well, perhaps anomalies is not the right word, where there were rate differentials in a few municipalities that one rate compared to another, not the whole package,
but one component of a rate compared to another was slightly more than what the final provincial harmonized rate was. So, we grandparented anybody who would have lost money, that is what they would have gotten on their cheque from March as opposed to what they would have gotten under provincial jurisdiction in April. We grandparented them at the old rate.
Peter, I don't know if you have right at the top of your head, how many people we had to grandparent.
MR. PETER BARTEAUX: About 1,200.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: So, you are looking at about 15,000 people. So, you can see that there was not a significant sort of crossover here. Those are two important points. By and large, rates were increased and nobody lost. We have grandparented in each of the iterations of this. So, in Cape Breton, Halifax, and in the region of Queens, we grandparented people through so that they don't lose money in the transition. There was fear that we would lift that grandparent provision and we have not lifted the grandparent provision in any of those sites.
Now, I don't know, if you ask me how many people do we still have who are receiving what is called a GPA, which for the purpose of the cheque is our code for grandparent adjustment, I don't know the answer to that because once people come out of the system, if they come back in they apply at the new benefit structure. We have not put a time limit on the grandparent provision.
We have provided a standard Pharmacare Program. We still continue to operate two Pharmacare Programs. The Pharmacare Program in the short-term system is different than the Pharmacare Program in the long-term system. We think the Pharmacare Program in the short-term system is probably better for people. It provides for a $3.00 co-pay per prescription, no annual limit, whereas the one under the FB has a 20 per cent co-pay up to an annual limit of $150 for an individual.
Again, there are some policy differences between the two programs. We now have a comprehensive special needs policy. Again, I think people will be aware that special needs in the former municipalities were dealt with somewhat differentially. They tended to be more considered a supplementary benefit. Depending on what the financial situation of the municipality was at that particular point in time, they may or may not have gotten the special need. I will tell you that this is an area of significant fiscal risk for us in having taken over the system. We are monitoring it very carefully. The aggregate total of special needs expenditures when you look at municipal and provincial sources last year in the province was roughly $12 million. We would like to keep it roughly within that parameter. The penetration level - because municipalities did not tend to look favourably at FB clients coming for special needs - into the FB caseload was only 25 per cent among the municipalities. That is one of our fiscal
risk factors because now that it is under our system, theoretically everybody is eligible for a special need.
So that is an area that we are keeping a watching brief on because it is an area that could quickly amount to a several million dollar increase in our cost this year. In any kind of transition process like this, you do run into fiscal challenges. You do run into, in some areas, the potential for costs to spike up considerably. I think we all know that with the razor-thin surplus that we have in the province that it is clearly an area that departmentally we need to be concerned about. Of course, the last point is that it sets the stage for a fully integrated program.
So just very quickly, we have the long-term program now, we have one administration but two programs. So, this is kind of the unimportant milestone on the road to a fully integrated system. The Family Benefits Program, we talked about that, 29,000 clients and when you add in the beneficiaries, 55,000 people across the province, and annual expenditures about $221 million.
Social assistance, the short-term program, this is known either as social assistance or income assistance, sometimes by the acronym IA. This is the old Social Assistance Act, the legislative authority for this is under the old Social Assistance Act. That Act dates back to when, Peter?
MR. BARTEAUX: 1958.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: 1958. So, you can see that there is a need to drag the legislation into the latter part of the century. It meets all situations of need, integrated with employment programs and roughly, again, 15,000 clients, when you add in the beneficiaries, 25,000 and costs of roughly $106 million a year.
We are dealing now with a number of transitional issues. When we took over municipal delivery on April 1st, there were issues. As you know, we brought in all of the municipal staff from the former units. So, we had to deal with all of the minutia associated with having places for them to work, having computer equipment, installing technology, all of that sort of thing.
I don't know the extent to which committee members are aware of this, but we have been working closely with Human Resources Development Canada, HRD, across the province to develop co-located services. We have had two key pilot areas up and running for the last two years; one in Antigonish and one in Glace Bay. They are working very well and we are now expanding that. We have recently opened a joint office in Amherst. We are in the final stages of negotiation in the Kentville area. We have just renovated, in the Digby area, the old Children's Training Centre and the department with HRD will be moving into those offices.
It is our intent to try to build those into a multi-service centre. We have invited workers' compensation workers to come in. It is an attempt to try to streamline, to make it less confusing for people because of one point in some of the communities, they would have to go to the municipal building, then they would have to go to the provincial, and then they would have to go to the federal if they wanted to get EI. So, a lot of work is under way with the federal government on that front.
Caseload rationalization refers to a point that I perhaps should have made back with the FB program. Members of the committee will be aware that the Auditor General has expressed some concern in several reports around the caseload numbers for the Family Benefits Program workers, particularly, and we are trying to build the new system on a caseload standard which is based on a national standard of a maximum of 225 cases per worker, being a blended caseload. So you would have within that caseload some short-term, you would have some clients whose service intensity would be less than some others, in other words.
We have in the FB Program, situations where the caseload numbers are double that. So there is a lot work under way right now to rationalize those caseloads across the various workers. Part of that involves, on an interim basis, training all the FB workers, also in the policies around Social Assistance, and we were able quite recently, within the last month, to also improve, to standardize the classification system, because there had been a differential between the classification of the SA and FB workers.
I am putting a fine point on this stuff because I want the committee to understand that there is a lot of back shop complexity involved in this transfer. It is not a simple matter of rolling out a new policy, and saying here, we have done it. There is a huge amount of complex administrative back shop work that needs to be done, and it is really important to us in the department that the committee understands that.
The other major challenge that we have is migrating those 29,000 Family Benefits cases to the new computer system. We have developed a new computer system. We are continuing to work on that. It is a work in progress. Our vision for that computer system at the end of the day, is one that will have at the front end of it the beginnings of at least an expert system that will allow us to provide decision support to workers, to streamline the workload of workers.
In the IA sites, what we are attempting to do is identify very early those clients who are job ready, versus those clients who require some training versus those clients who are likely to be long-term employed because you can then organize your resources in a much different way and a much more efficient and productive way, when you do that. We want to develop some stuff on the front end of that computer system, that will help in decision support to workers.
So for example, if a constellation of things that are predictive of job readiness, if it is a high school leaving achievement level, a relatively good work experience and work history, and you know, if it is an age factor, or if it is whatever. You can then make some predictors based on using the technology as a bit of an expert system in that area. So at a time when we would like to enhance the caseload standard, we are also trying to find ways to make the work more efficient, and to deal with workload issues and pressures that staff have.
We began this enterprise, when we took over the J. W. MacDonald Building up on Gottingen Street as one of our key centres there, we established a professional training centre, and I am sure some of you are thinking, where did they get the money for that? Well it didn't cost us anything. We got leftover stuff from HRD, but it is really nice leftover stuff. We have one of those hidden screens that come out of the ceiling, and so forth. This was great stuff, and we got it for absolutely nothing. We have done extensive staff training of everybody in the province in terms of both technology training and policy training. We are now using that facility centrally but also decentralized to train staff on the National Child Benefit. There are other elements of staff training that we want to get into, which I will detail in a moment.
I thought we would look at some interim policy and benefits issues. On April 1st, I will run through this quickly because I think we have covered most of the points, I am slightly ahead of myself here, benefits were harmonized, hence we have a standard policy. We have implemented uniform classification, and we have done a lot of training. The enhancements, 70 per cent of the short-term clients received an increase. Just a little anecdote on that. There were several areas of the province - and our clients are generally very honest in situations - we had a little glitch last year where roughly 175 cheques got double-enveloped and people got actually two assistance cheques as opposed to one. Almost to a person, everybody called back and said, look you sent me two cheques, I am going to bring one back.
When we sent out the new cheques in April, there were several areas of the province where people saw an increase in the cheque, and it was in some cases a significant increase and we will show you some of the numbers in a moment, many of them called up and said, you must have made a mistake, there is a difference in my cheque, should I cash it? That kind of thing.
The increases were significant enough to make a difference in family income, it wasn't the proverbial $1.00 a month, or $2.00 a month, or whatever. The increase is obviously varied by municipality, and there is a wide range. But the average increase in shelter was 38 per cent, and the average increase in personal use allowance was 21 per cent. We have equity in the same rules, we have uniform special needs policy. All of those policies are available in the Government Book Store, Queen's Printer, and indeed if the committee would like samples, we will make them available.
Standardized Pharmacare Program introduced, and there is a top-up allowance which I will talk about in a moment for persons with disabilities and those who are the most vulnerable. The singles rate issue has been a bit of a flashpoint, particularly in metro, and I have to tell you that we have not had, and I tell you this in complete candour, we have not had any complaints, or many complaints from clients themselves. This has been more an issue with advocates. But the total package for single employables in our short-term system is $369 a month, of which $225 is the shelter component. This is the second-highest in Atlantic Canada. It compares about middle of the pack across the country for this particular group.
There is a top-up provision of $175 for additional shelter, that is directed at individuals who may have a disability, who for one reason or another cannot work, for people who are fleeing an abusive situation, for somebody who is chronically ill, or somebody who is age 55. There is some flexibility around how that top-up gets applied. Approximately 35 per cent of single clients in the metro area, and the reason why we use the metro statistic is because it has been more of an issue in metro, received this additional $175 top-up. With that top-up on the shelter side, they are in fact above what they would have been in the previous municipality at the highest rates. The rate in the metro municipalities previously ranged from $225 to $350. With the top-up they are actually at $400 for shelter. The shelter rate, at least on the top-up dimension has been enhanced, at the $225 level it has not been enhanced. At the top-up level it has been enhanced.
I am going to show you a series of slides now that provide some comparative information on basic rates. On the far left of your chart, you will see the, first the legend up in the right-hand corner, a single parent, child age 6, so that is the sample family size here. Far left, you will see the family benefits payment that that individual would receive, and our income assistance or social assistance payment beside it. Then to give you an example of the range of comparable rates that would have been in the original municipalities, you will see Digby County at $515, Richmond at $658, and Pictou at $752.
So if for example you take Digby County, a person would have seen more than $200 on their cheque in April over their cheque in March. So you can understand why clients would be calling in respect to their cheque.
On intra-provincial comparison of the Atlantic Provinces, again, the legend, single employable, our rate over on the far left, New Brunswick at $264, Newfoundland at $335, Nova Scotia $369, P.E.I. $443. We are not proud of these rates. Clearly they are obviously a challenge to live on. Most young, single, employable people have options certainly that families do not in terms of shelter options and they can live with friends or share an apartment, or whatever. But I wanted to make sure that you had a sense of the intra-provincial comparisons here.
A single, disabled person, again Nova Scotia is second, and that is looking at the social assistance level. I wanted to spend a wee bit of time now on Next Steps and the Vision for a New System. Our particular vision, the department vision, and based on some of the work that we have done internally on our benchmarking with other jurisdictions and our work within the government community, and also informed by the first stage of our consultation process, which we conducted back in December/January and that was a series of focus groups held with clients, with advocates, with government partners, with community agencies, with business people and so forth.
Our vision for a new system is to provide a secure and predictable social safety net; fair, responsive and equitable service; support to persons with disabilities and when we get into the policy issues on which we particularly want input, this is one I want to put a fairly fine point on; supports for people who are able to move into employment; helping clients where they have the potential to move toward independence; inclusive of families and communities, and we have tried very hard within the department to make sure that the policy work that we are doing to date is cross-fertilized with the Family and Children's Services Division so that we are looking at the problems holistically across the department and the issues holistically across the department because we do not want to do things on one side that are going to create stresses on families and cause expenditures and/or interventions being required on the other side.
Redesigned incentives is a major issue. It is a major challenge for us and I want to talk to you in a little bit more detail about that. We want the decision made close to the client. We do not want any arcane bureaucracy associated with this program. We want to have efficient and accountable program administration and it needs to be done in a way that is fiscally sustainable over time.
We see the province as retaining responsibility for service delivery. Certainly we are not interested in going back to a municipal delivery method. Province setting policies; building on existing partnerships with non-government organizations and third party sector and, again, we have an extremely extensive network of service providers with whom we work; emphasis on removing disincentives; and coordinated with the National Child Benefit initiative and the yet to be sort of rolled out, but nascent National Children's Agenda and I will talk a little bit more about that in a moment.
The goal, what we need to do here, is we need to consolidate the FB and SA programs into one program or, and this is an issue on which personally I do not have a firm position one way or the other and which I think we need to debate quite vigorously, is the issue of whether we go with a separate program for persons with disabilities, or whether that gets all included in one piece of legislation for social assistance generally. I think there are pros and cons of going one way or the other, but it is an issue that I think we need to address.
We clearly require new legislation. We obviously want to have common policy, a better link to the job market, uniform rates and, again, the fiscal issue, as somebody responsible for a $560 million budget, I have to consider the fiscal sustainability issue very clearly.
The next steps, we are managing a number of, in some cases difficult but in all cases, labour intensive transition issues associated with what we have just done. We want to move relatively quickly to a public consultation phase and I am going to talk about that in a little bit greater detail, the next phase for a public consultation. Following that, that would inform the development of the new social welfare policy and the preparation of legislation.
I would very much like to see legislation on the floor of the House in the fall of this year, but I do not know if that is possible. The longer we continue to run these two systems, there are systems glitches that exist between the two. There are policy anomalies that exist between the two. There are management issues that exist between the two and, you know, we have a responsibility and a duty to that cadre of staff who are out there delivering these programs. There is a fair degree of anxiety around what are the next steps, what are the next stages and so forth. And folded into this debate is the sobering issue of the technology implications. We clearly have a year 2000 compliance problem with the family benefits system and we are quite literally days away from making a final decision on contingency planning around that.
We have a well-developed Y2K team in the department. I have an excellent outside consultant who we have in and have had in for a number of months now, but if, for example, we are going to continue to run the old mainframe, whether it runs precisely the FB program or whether it runs a new program, if we are going to continue to use that mainframe technology, we are, again, days away from a decision around the Y2K compliance issue and the kind of if-then-decisions re where we go with the particular problem.
The key policy issues that are of concern to the department and on which we would like to have some well-informed views and some diverse views are the following. Basically, we are in the final stages of editing our new discussion paper. It really focuses in on these key policy issues. The 16 to 19 year old group, they are a group that unless somebody is a ward and their wardship is extended, the Children and Family Services Act goes up to the age of 16. On the other hand, the Social Assistance Act kind of clicks in at the age of 19 and there is a bit of a no man's land there in terms of the 16 to 19 year old group.
We have had a working committee for several months scoping out the issues for both the child welfare folks and the adult service providers to try to look at and do a bit of preliminary benchmarking with other jurisdictions in terms of how they are dealing with that particular issue.
MR. JAMES MUIR: It runs up to the age of 20 if they are in school, Ron?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Yes, wardship can be extended to the age of 21. The post-secondary education issues, this is a key issue for ourselves, for the Department of Education. The reality is that many of the people who are on social assistance, I guess notwithstanding relatively good economic indicators and generally declining employment rates across the country, the length of time people are spending on social assistance is generally increasing and has increased during this decade so that the tenure of contact with the social assistance system has been increasing. I find that actually an alarming trend and one of the things I think it says to us is that we know that the jobs of the future and the skill requirements of people have changed dramatically.
It is a similar issue that we have on the TAGS side when you look at the school-leaving achievement levels of many of the fishermen, you know, averaging Grade 8, Grade 9, Grade 4, Grade 6; the ability to retrain people; and the availability of jobs that are generally considered in our lower-skill sector. They are just not there. It is a huge issue in terms of how we deal with that.
MADAM CHAIR: May I ask a question? The educational attainment of people on social assistance, what are the trends there?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: There is the single-parent category - and we have this information broken out by strata of achievement level - the lone-parent category, by far, has the most potential, the highest school-leaving achievement levels and generally better work histories. Single, so-called, employables, there are some fairly alarming characteristics there: drop-outs, poor school-leaving achievement level, little labour market attachment experience, and so forth. Persons with disabilities, it is all over the garden lot, but generally there is a high correlation between disability and lower school-leaving achievement levels, which you would anticipate anyway. By far, if you could put it in these terms, the cream of the crop in the social assistance caseload, all sectors considered, is the single parents, without question.
Incentives are the key, I think. If people think back to the report that Donald MacDonald did back in the 1980's that looked at a strong recommendation for a guaranteed annual income, in some ways we are coming around to the notion of a guaranteed annual income, but not called that. The coddling together of the tax provisions that are linked to low-income provisions, some of the work that is under way with the National Child Benefit, we are in effect creating floors and ceilings beyond which people will not fall. And on the ceiling side, through which they will go, if they go beyond that ceiling, they will go on their own, under their own steam.
The whole incentive side of this is key. People have a sense, I think, that they don't cost anything. They do cost something. They can also have perverse effects. Incentive provisions can have, what are called in our business, entry effects, so that you attract people
into your system because you have changed the incentive provisions, and formerly they wouldn't have been interested. This is particularly an issue when you look at the grey area between people on assistance and people who are in the category that is often referred to as working poor.
One of the things that we have been trying to work through in the department is, how can we even reduce our costs per case, how can we invest in people? Jerry and I had a meeting yesterday on another matter, and we got to talking about this, the escape wage level for a single parent in metro on family benefits is $9 an hour. Well, there are not that many $9.00 an hour jobs out there. So how do you find a way to bridge people to that employment, what kinds of incentives can you put in place, because realistically people are not going to go into jobs if they can't make as much as they are getting on social assistance.
The next point is around this transition to work benefits issue, and one of the things that we would like to look at - and there is now an emerging body of knowledge on this stuff that wasn't there before; in fact, the timing on some of this is quite good - we would like to look at things like extended Pharmacare for people, time-limited extended Pharmacare for people, maybe for a year, a year and one-half.
The reality of the labour market out there is that we hear about part-time employment, and it is very much a reality, non-standard employment is very much a reality, and the important point is many of these employment venues are non-voluntary. People do not have a choice, that is what is available and they have to fit into it. What we have to try to do is rig incentives where if someone can work for 25 hours a week and still continue to get some kind of supplementation, perhaps continue to get a benefit stream around Pharmacare. If you have a single parent whose child has a medical difficulty and results in high recurrent drug costs on a monthly basis, obviously they are not going to go to work if they don't have a Pharmacare Program. So, those are some of the issues associated.
It is extremely complex when you begin to look at this. This is a whole field of study in terms of welfare economics and it is an area that, quite frankly, you know, I think at the end of the day we are going to hear from the public. I would even like to see us look at a kind of a reference group around this issue of incentives and do a bit of benchmarking, get some academic help because I think there are people that can be helpful to us in that area as well.
Child care is a major issue for people. One of the things, just under the healthy child's side of the NCB, the reality is there are never going to be enough subsidized seats to meet the demand. One of the things we are trying to do is to develop a different approach to child care in the rural areas. There is a paucity of service in the rural areas. In family child care we have had a number of programs up and running in Nova Scotia, three or four of them that have been very successful. We would like to begin to move that out to the more rural parts of the province where they would be available. It is about the job creation thing so that you are
getting people employed but you are also providing child care and moving some of the subsidy money into subsidizing family child care as well.
There is a bit of a lower premium on subsidizing family child care than centre-based care. There are obviously sensitivities in this area. We are working with the round table on child care, which is a ministerial instrument to advise government on child care. So that is a major issue on which we would like public input.
The whole issue of income security for children, the Nova Scotia child benefit, which is Nova Scotia's response to the NCB, and the federal-provincial direction, and clearly the attempt here and the long-term goal is to try nationally, to try to get children out of social assistance, to take the children right out of social assistance, have a separate income stream.
The only province that has been able to do that, and they have done it very successfully, is B.C., the B.C. Family Bonus Program. The deputy in B.C. tells me that this year they are turning back, I believe it is $60 million to the Treasury. Now, understand that those are much different numbers in B.C. than our budget, but it has been an extremely successful program. A number of other jurisdictions, including Saskatchewan and Alberta, are also looking at similar type programs. The Nova Scotia Child Benefit Program that we are implementing under the NCB is the initial building block for that. So that is an area where we need to kind of merge our thinking and merge policy formation and in some ways the policy formation on the social assistance side being instructed by some opportunities in terms of looking at child poverty.
When you take children out of social assistance, you then end up with a residual benefits structure for social assistance that more closely equates to a minimum wage Statute, you know, what a person would be expected to earn. Then if you can add in the little benefits that are available to people to encourage them to work, you have got a far greater likelihood you are getting around that issue of the escape level, wage level that currently exists in our system on this side, but on the other side it is not taxable, then you have shored up the child benefit component. So you are trying to, at the same time, address the child poverty issue. So it is a very complex area. It is an area where the thinking is just emerging. We have had a great overview of the B.C. situation. We had a meeting out in B.C. about a month and one-half ago. Peter and I went and the deputy there gave all the deputies across the country an overview of what they have done. There has been a major report done by Michael Mendelson who many of you may know from the Caledon Institute on the B.C. Family Bonus Program. It is an area we are extremely interested in.
Another key policy issue is developing prevention programs for children and youth and the last area is looking at the whole area of disability. I think this is an issue where, quite frankly, I don't know what the right answer is here. I don't know at this stage whether we should be moving toward a program that provides a separate service and benefit structure and so forth to persons with disabilities or we should be trying to shoehorn it all into the same
piece of legislation. I think the key pressing, burning issues for people who represent the interests of persons with disabilities are that they want adequate benefits. I don't think they really have a preference in terms of, in fact there are parts of that community that would say we don't want to be segregated, but it is a bit of an issue that I think we need to get some advice on.
Public Consultation. We are in the final stages of editing the most recent paper. People will know that there was a paper represented to P&P in Cabinet roughly about a year, in fact it probably would be a year ago about a week from now, and the minister was a new minister at that time, she was not comfortable with the paper. We didn't release the paper at that time. We have done a new paper, it is more geared toward fleshing out some of the policy issues that we have talked about on the previous slide and trying to get some feedback and some consensus, well, I have concluded that consensus is not possible, but to try to get some feedback on the key policy issues.
The final consultation strategy has not been determined at this point, but it will include certainly a broad release of the paper, people will have an opportunity to present briefs or write or e-mail or it will be posted up on our website and so forth. I think we will probably need to have discussions with certain key groups and I think we will make ourselves available to hear from groups who are interested in the issues. We would be asking, I would expect, the Disabled Persons Commission to comment on associated issues and it will go broadly to our partners. So for example, the Transition House Association, I expect would want to put their views on the table in respect to women's centres and so forth.
We will allow a minimum of three months for consultation. That has been the clear message that has come back from people who have commented on that issue. There will be an opportunity for feedback in a variety of ways, and they are not fully fleshed out yet. So don't take my comments today as the final consultation strategy, because they are not, they are really the sum total of our thinking just at this stage.
Some other challenges that we have clearly is the need to develop policy and legislation that provides equity, that provides consistency, that is responsive to local communities. There are some real issues in communities in Nova Scotia that in some ways the welfare system needs to at least be a central partner in addressing. If you look at, for example some of even the stuff coming out of TAGS and the community economic development stuff, I think there is a growing sense that when they trained the Newfoundlanders, the fisher people to use computers and so forth, and there was this one lovely, memorable interview I saw on television of the fisherman, and he is a fairly older, more completely irascible sort of chap, and he said, what the hell did they do this to me for, I can't do anything with this.
So there is a growing sense of community capacity building, looking at alternate use of community assets. I think one of the shining examples in Nova Scotia really is the work that has been done on the community development side down in Isle Madame in response to
the closure of that big fish plant down there; not just the closure, they bulldozed it, and that was an important piece of symbolism for that community, to leave that fish plant behind and get on with something else. So looking at the community context and alternate uses for those community assets and so forth, those are the kinds of areas where we have a vested interest because of cost control and good social policy to be in there, and to help animate those kinds of community responses. In many ways that is one of the reasons why we have been one of the lead departments on the post-TAGS strategy, because when you talk about looming contingent liabilities, the potential for the removal of $51 million in income assistance on the TAGS side in this province is a looming contingent liability for the social assistance systems.
In many ways it is part of the complexity of doing business in a province where there is a strong economic zone around the metro area and say 60 kilometres out, but there are also pockets in the province where there are real economic challenges, real employment challenges, and the technology has shown - I am not going to put much finer a point on that, other than to say that we have some real tough issues that we are grappling with in relation to technology and the Y2K problem, and so forth.
Managing change and the potential of change for our clients, for our staff, is considerable. When we put together the project team, there was a change management group that was established under that that has really handled the communications around communications to our clients, communications to our staff, and so forth. It is an area where you can have the most successful program in the world but if you don't handle the change process properly, it is very difficult and it creates a lot of turbulence. So the kind of change that we are looking at down the road is change that is going to require a significant and very focused effort around change management.
Obviously staff development and training, we had opened up some discussions with others around the notion, when we get a new program of having a completely new training program for staff that would be used, economical means like distance ed, and that sort of thing. I would like to see it being something that for example, with either the Maritime School, and I have had some very preliminary discussions with the director there on this, or through the association, of some way of credentialing people, because our income assistance and FB workers often feel themselves to be kind of poor cousins to the professionals in the field.
I think there is some work that we can do, and part of that work, I think would be to get to the heart of the issues around. There has been concern expressed in the past, particularly in the short-term program around staff sensitivity to clients, to particular issues, to particular sub-segments in the population, whether they be women or people of colour, whatever. So there is a lot of work that we need to and want to do there, and we want to do it in an efficient manner, and in partnership with either the community college system or other partners including the association and/or the Maritime School.
Finally, looking at the caseload standard from the point of view of it is very clear when your caseload standard is out of whack, when workers have more clients, the actual social assistance exits go down. So there is a very clear correlation between an appropriate caseload standard and balance in that system.
I liken that derivative trader in the Far East who brought down the Baring's Bank, I liken our workers to the derivatives trader, because they are out there, each of them, juggling a portfolio of roughly, if you look at it in very crude terms, probably $5 million worth of expenditures, and little decisions that they make impact on cost issues for the department. So again, a good caseload standard is both good social policy and good administrative policy from the point of the view of an efficient and effective system.
We did not complete the presentation from the point of view, I wanted to include a small section on international benchmarking and we did not complete that. But I just wanted to share with you a few highlights of things that in our experience in other jurisdictions, some of the things that are working. There has been some indication that in some of the literature, or some of the material that I have seen around our restructuring, there has been some claim that we are not only proponents of workfare, but we are operating workfare. There is a recent letter that came in to the minister. I want to make sure everybody in the room understands we are not proponents of workfare. We are not operating any workfare programs and we have no intention of operating any workfare programs.
I think in many ways the jury is in on the current round of workfare programs. They have been largely found to be overly expensive, not terribly effective, and I think there is, if you see workfare trundled out in any great measure, again, I think you will see it in a much different guise. I think it will be one that has more of a mix of elements. The things that are working from the U.S. experience, and we have got a lot of information from the Manpower Development Corporation in the U.S., which is an international think tank, they do some work in Canada as well, programs that use a mixture of job search, education, and training, but which have the emphasis of getting people into jobs relatively quickly, have proven to be the most cost effective and this is more the direct placement theory rather than the human capital theory where you train people for inordinate periods of time, or at least for lengthy periods of time, in order to get into training.
There is a clear consensus that management matters, that superior programs convey high expectations, that they have a pervasive employment focus, that they provide support for work, that they set demanding standards, that they involve the private sector, and they involve a wide range of people on welfare and have good management systems. The staff attitude and management philosophy is an important ingredient in success. Staff training is crucial. We have looked at the U.K. Green Paper on welfare reform. It is a national approach. It is a long-term approach, but it has short, medium and long-term goals. One of the things, leaving welfare aside for a moment, I very much like about it is that it is very strong on managing the
horizontal issues associated with social policies. So it is more the population health kind of model looking at the issues of long-term care and the numbers of people.
This is an emerging issue in Nova Scotia, the numbers of people who are going to be retiring who do not have adequate pensions and income support, particularly the long-term care issue, and its implications for housing and a variety of other support services, but in the welfare context there is a very strong focus on work. One of the ways that they are doing that is they are providing clients with personal advisors to find their way back to work. They have set up kind of a new deal on welfare where they are looking at, in the areas of pervasively high unemployment and their traditional sunset industries there, the heavy industrial sector, they are calling those employment zones and putting in different measures around supporting, again, the different use of community assets in getting people back to work.
In terms of what is working in Canada, when we were together in B.C., we did a round table among the provinces, and generally the notion of active interventions with clients and more client contact correlate positively with social assistance exits. The more we can do to have clients involved in helping them prepare résumés, job search, employment orientation, those kinds of things, they are very helpful. The culture of organization and management philosophy is important and, again, that is reaffirming the stuff from the U.S. experience.
The messages that are communicated to clients regarding expectations are key and need to be well understood by both the clients and staff. In areas of high unemployment it is crucial to develop the third sector and this is where the community capacity building, the use of community assets differently, comes in. It is interesting that British Columbia has recently established a minister with specific responsibility for the voluntary and community sector. That is an area, if you look at - I forget the author, but that book about the end of work . . .
MADAM CHAIR: Rifkin.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Rifkin, when you look at that, one of the clearer areas that he is postulating is that one of the key areas of employment growth in the future is development of the third sector. When you look at, for example, in some parts of the province, I think in some areas of Cape Breton, there are some real employment opportunities there in the health service sector from the point of view of people, you know, contiguous with home care policy where people are being supported in their own home. But employment opportunities, as you get that economic development thrust to establish retirement communities, people coming home and aging, and things being provided within the community, like this recently announced initiative in behind Clayton Park, where it is going to be a mix of a retirement community with both single-family homes, congregate care homes, but a range of services being provided. So there are some interesting approaches. Some of the provinces are further ahead than others on the issue of cultivating and expanding and building on that network of the voluntary sector.
Managing horizontality is a key issue for most jurisdictions. This relates to the relationship between the Community Services Department, Health, Education and Economic Development sectors. That is really the population health stuff where you begin to look more holistically at your policy approaches across government. We have had quite a bit of discussion about this issue among the deputies in this province, to try to get better at managing because we have been, in our department, on the business end of some changes in other parts of the government that have had an impact on our costs and our clients. So we are working more effectively on that.
The relationship, all of the people from around the country noted the importance of the relationship with the Finance Department in the particular jurisdiction in making sure that the Finance Department understands the issues you are dealing with from the point of view of the social side.
I would ask if my colleagues have anything supplementary to add, otherwise we would be happy to take questions and, as I have said, we have packages of this slide and if there is additional information that committee members would like to have, we would be pleased to provide that. Thank you for your patience.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Do either of you have any additional comments you would like to make at this time?
MR. BARTEAUX: No, I don't think so, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, so we will open it up for some discussion and some questions from members of the committee. Thank you.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Is the hard copy of your slide presentation going to be circulated now? It would be helpful I would think.
MADAM CHAIR: Jerry.
MR. JERRY PYE: I guess I will start. Thank you, deputy minister. First of all, I will apologize for being somewhat late. I guess I want to go to the caseload rationalization first because, as you had indicated, it is paramount in the delivery of services to the consumer. I recently had a tour of your central office in Dartmouth where, in fact, you have caseworkers who, in fact, deliver the IAP program and the FB program. Caseworkers, as I understand it, who deliver the FB program have some 450 to 525 clients each. I understand that you are looking at a reasonable level of some 250 to 225. I am wondering if, in fact, you have studied the impact of stress in the delivery of your services as a result of that high number in which they have to deliver?
As well, the IAP caseworkers, I understand the norm is 145 actual clients that they should have and, in fact, they are ranging from 175 to 195. Now, we do know that people on IAP are short term. So that is even more stressful, I would think, because you are constantly changing. I am wondering if you can give me some feedback with respect to that?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Inevitably when you walk down this road, you start to get into differences of caseload and workload. There is no question, and I will not even try to defend it, the caseloads on the FB side are too high. That has implications, it has fiscal implications for us. It has implications for the workers and so forth, but on the issue of a caseload standard, Peter, correct me if I am wrong here, I think I am right in saying that the big study that was done in Ontario suggested a caseload standard of 225, is that correct?
MR. BARTEAUX: Yes.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: We have had some discussions with other jurisdictions on that particular issue. That is agreed upon as a measure in Canada for a caseload. When you start to look, though, at workload issues, and look at demands on caseworkers, in some cases a caseload of 15 may be too high, when you look at the particular workload pressures of the particular worker.
Over the last two years on the FB workload side, we have done a number of things. Formerly all of the long-term-care clients who were in homes for special care were showing up on the FB workers' caseloads, although there might be once-a-year contact because they were actually in a residential facility receiving care. So we took all those cases off and transferred them over to the community supports for adults side and there were roughly 900 cases in total.
When you looked at the Auditor General's Report on the diminution of costs of the FB Program, while the cost numbers of the actual program had gone down, some of the money had been transferred to the community support side. So that was not even a real indication. That left the impression that somehow people were falling off the caseload left, right and centre, which was not necessarily the case. Our caseloads are going down, but not that precipitously.
We also, for clients in the pilot project in Cape Breton, had introduced a streaming feature, and in the region of Queens as well, where you have basically four streams and one is job-ready; the next stream is job-ready say in six to 12 months; the next stream is job-ready in two years; and the final stream is long term. You can establish for workload purposes different criteria around frequency of service contact, how services are provided and a variety of things for the longer term clients. In some cases all they may need is a phone number to call to pose a question, or whatever. So we are attempting within that caseload standard then to stratify the caseload in a way that allows for workers to be spending the predominant period of time on that portion of the caseload that has the most demand for them as workers.
Jerry, it is a blunt instrument, the science in it is not perfected. Do you know what I mean? But we are doing a lot of work in that area. Peter, or Barb, I don't know if you want to make supplementary comments on that?
MS. BARB BURLEY: I wanted to make mention, I think there has been a lot of concern around caseload, the numbers, the averages, the stress on the worker level, the quality of service to the client and ensuring that the client gets the full benefit of case management intervention. Supplementary to Ron's comments, we are in the midst of doing an analysis and an assessment of all of the cases across the system so we can help identify cases that should be streamed, as Ron said, so that we can ensure that clients who require some additional intervention and assistance from a case management perspective have the benefit of that; whereas clients who are going to require assistance for an extended period of time are not going to be visited on an as-frequent basis. However, it goes back, Jerry, to your comment, it will help to balance the caseload expectations that staff are now feeling.
MR. PYE: I think primarily, excuse me, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: Can I just interrupt for a second, for the purposes of Hansard, each time we go to a different microphone, we either need to self-identify, or I would call . . .
MR. PYE: No problem at all. As an MLA we become advocates, and as advocates we recognize the importance of the delivery of service, particularly when we recognize the number of calls that come, and I believe that this is true for all MLAs with respect to social service calls throughout the province, and that would be our highest number. The delivery of service is paramount and important to us. It is also important to the client that the client seems to be, at least, served appropriately when they make the call.
If in the fact those numbers are high, what occurs is that the client comes back disappointed, recognizing that they have not been properly served, because the caseworker in this particular case may be required to complete x number of cases during the day, and therefore is somewhat abrupt in the delivery of offering advice or additional services or particular needs to that client. That is the reason I bring this up, because there is this correlation between the number of caseworkers versus the number of clients that you have.
MS. BURLEY: If I may, I think added to that, and again it adds to the comments made earlier by Ron, there is also a difference in the kind of case management intervention, depending upon the needs of the client. If you are an individual who is in receipt of assistance because of a long-term disability, then the skill set of your case management is very different than the skill sets required by the case manager who is actually working on active interventions with a client to assist them to become job-ready. This is part of the work that we are undertaking at this time to ensure that not only do we have appropriate numbers, but we also have the appropriate training provided to staff to assist them in working, so that the client feels they are being well served.
MR. PYE: My final question, Madam Chair. We just briefly touched on the National Child Care Program, and I want to come to the National Child Care Program because I believe that there are some unfair inequities within the service, and I had a moment to speak with the deputy minister yesterday in one particular case, if I may cite it. In the National Child Care Program as I understand it, deputy minister, it is a payment from the Government of Canada that comes directly to poor families with children. As a result of those families being on family benefits, it is a clawback of some $50.30. As of October 1st, however, they will receive an additional $22 back to July 1st, which in fact has made them lose some $20 in actual, real money.
The message behind that is that it will encourage people to get employment and so on, and it will assist the working poor. However, in Newfoundland the total amount is being paid through the National Child Care Program, and in New Brunswick as well. Nova Scotia is somewhat different. My concern, Madam Chair, is if you have a family of three where the father is totally disabled, the children are aged 16, 10 and 9, and in fact the mother has always been a housewife, uneducated and unable to take advantage of the services that may be provided, if in fact she were able to get employment, and so on, therefore, this family is being penalized. They are being penalized by not getting the full benefit of the National Child Care Program and their children continue to live in poverty.
From my vantage point, I see a pitting of the poorest against the poor of that level of service. I am wondering, is there some thought given to recommending change or is there any change within that, and do you recognize that as a problem as well?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: I think that Jerry and I had a chance to talk about this at some length yesterday in fact. One of the common criticisms, and one of the common concerns that has been expressed on the NCP is the fact that the federal supplement that is coming, it will come to them next week, Peter I guess, to the two families, and it is not only poor families, it is a pretty broad income band when you look, it is part of the Canada Child Tax Benefit Program.
The agreement reached between the federal government and the provinces was that the provinces would charge back the amount of the federal supplement, which is coming this month, and then reinvest those monies in a reinvestment pool that would support initiatives to eradicate poverty. It is very clear that one of the national objectives of the Child Benefit Program is to encourage people to go to work.
I take your point on the issue of the family that you described, and I understand your concerns around that, because in essence I think what you are saying is that in this particular instance that individual is not going to go to work, but the point that I think is important to put on the table here around the NCP and Jerry raised the issue of Newfoundland and New Brunswick who have chosen to deal with it differently than the rest of the country, from the point of view of the way in which it is done.
We have chosen to deal with it differently as well in Nova Scotia. All of the other provinces are charging back the full amount of the supplement. In Nova Scotia we are charging back the full amount, but we are giving back to all people below a certain income band, and we are trying to get the people who are under $16,000 a year combined family income so that it is going to the poorest of the poor, but that also includes the social assistance clients and in every other jurisdiction, it doesn't include the social assistance clients, it includes only the working poor.
It doesn't answer your point fully, Jerry. I am on the particular question of the jurisdiction that you raised yesterday. I am checking out to see if there has been any set aside. I spoke to Peter about that after we met, and my understanding is that they do charge it against persons with disabilities as well, that it is right across the board, anybody who has children, in the budget. We will find that out. I am going to let you know. I take your point on that, and it is an issue that has been raised in other provinces as well.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: One of the things that concerns me, I appreciate what Jerry is talking about, and I also appreciate the fact that caseload is a very important aspect, but I want to look at the other end of the scale, in terms of incentives or programs to eliminate the number of people that we have to deal with in various circumstances under Community Services.
One of those is the alternate school concept, which is operating under the Annapolis district school board, and what we find is there is always a problem with people who drop out of school prior to completion of Grade 12, and inevitably those people are going to come under the program of Community Services, in one shape or another, one form or another.
My concern is at that end, and I am just wondering, how much financial support or how much cooperation in terms of programming which those kinds of programs, if we can say, branch out into a wilderness experience for some of these people, where they would learn life skills, along with their regular program. Also coupled with that, the alternate possibility of working in the plumbing trade or whatever it is, that those people would like to get involved in.
It has always been a concern of mine, people who drop out of school, and don't have an opportunity and go through a period of time in their lives where they are unsettled. Many of those people become settled on their own, without any assistance. But there are always those who will not. I just thought that maybe a boot camp or wilderness experience coupled all of the kinds of things that they are doing now. Are these the kinds of incentives that you would be looking at in cooperation, say, with the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health or any combination? Is this the kind of thing you would visualize as an incentive?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: When I talk about incentives in relation to social assistance, I am talking really more about some very specific things like how earned income is treated against the social assistance entitlement to ensure that there is always an incentive to work. What kinds of benefits are available to people that would, for example, if somebody has Pharmacare and they have high drug costs and they work part time and there are no benefits, one of the possible incentive responses might be to say we will extend the Pharmacare so that you can work.
The issue that you raise, I think, is an important one in terms of the broad recognition of the need for our department to work in partnership with the others who can deal with the broader issues of education and training and links with the job market. I think the provinces were invited by the federal government, roughly a year and one-half ago, to consider taking over responsibility for labour market matters. There was a full smorgasbord of options for them from complete devolution of federal programs to strategic alliances and co-management agreements and so forth.
We developed an agreement with the federal government in Nova Scotia called the Labour-Market Development Agreement to which the Departments of Education and Culture, Economic Development and Tourism, Community Services, and HRD are signatories. The whole purpose of that agreement is to coordinate and to deal with labour market issues, deal with training issues and to work effectively across departments and jurisdictions in terms of these services. It is from that, in part, that these co-location initiatives have developed where we are working with the federal government in the same site. It is through that, frankly, Laurie, with the federal government.
A lot of the funding that used to be available for things like literacy training for people who, for example, need life skills training before they are mature enough to go to work and so forth, a lot of the monies for those kind of softer services have dried up and it is a challenge for the government. The Department of Education has the Community Learning Initiative, CLI, which is a partnered arrangement around the province with learners and adult educators to do the literacy training.
Some of that kind of treatment experience, and you are really, I think, talking on the sort of concept of the wilderness adventure training and that sort of thing, usually tends to be more directed to youth who are at high risk and for whom there is a treatment component. There are no specific, that I am aware of, kind of wilderness outbound camps here. The Heartwood Institute on the South Shore does that kind of thing on a contractual basis and they do a very good job with it and Mark Langois is the Principal of that operation. There have been two proposals that I have seen recently that have come before government to establish a wilderness kind of outreach treatment but it is more oriented toward dealing with the particular challenges that the youth have in terms of anti-social behaviours and that type of thing.
But I take your point. I think it is a really important point and, again, when you look at the particular challenges in the labour market in the specific parts of the province, there are really no ready answers here for where the jobs are going to come from and that sort of thing. So I think the point you are raising is an important one.
MR. MONTGOMERY: There is another part of that, if I may, that is one aspect through the alternate school program but you mentioned the adult learning program. I just attended a graduation in that school in Lawrencetown, in my constituency. When that program began four or five years ago through federal and private funds, not anything provincially, there were four graduates. This year there were 19. Now over the last couple of years, the number of people who are now off support, in terms of welfare, in that program is 22. They can verify that. It seems to me that that is a positive approach to the whole problem.
The only problem that the administrator of this program has is each year he has to spend his time and energy to get funds on a private basis or from the federal government. Most of them come from the federal government. Each year he has to have a new proposal. He spends so much time on that aspect that he cannot deal as effectively as he would wish to deal with staffing and individual communication with students coming into the program, course offerings, all the rest of it.
So this is kind of frustrating and I am just thinking, in terms of this, if we can prove that people can go off social assistance through these kinds of programs, it is a step in the right direction. I am just wondering if any long-term program could be set up on a financial basis where they would know their source of funding and then could put a greater emphasis and have even more people. So those are the two points I wanted to bring up on that.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: What we can do is get our Director of Employment Support Services, Tracey Williams, to look into that. I think we have had some correspondence from them. We can get back to you privately about that or off-line in terms of the question.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Moody.
MR. MOODY: Thank you very much, Madam Chairperson. A couple of questions. There are definitely a lot of challenges and I understand the departments is trying to deal with many of the challenges. A couple of areas that I jotted down that I, like Jerry, get many calls, and I guess the biggest part of my calls deal with this area. I didn't see anything in your presentation on dealing with times for appeal. Appeals over the last while have taken a long time . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Six months plus.
MR. MOODY: . . . and it is real problem because many of these people obviously wouldn't be appealing if there wasn't a need. Many of them are disabled and I saw nothing in your presentation that the department was trying to address, which I think, I agree with Mr. MacEwan, is six months plus which is, to me, out of line.
The other area I didn't see you address that is a concern of mine is overpayments. Clients, in many cases no fault of theirs, it goes back to the workload of the worker. Calls are made, not followed up, not blaming the worker. The person is told not to worry. They don't worry until now we have a collection agency coming around trying to collect. I know some of these people personally and I know the hardship it is creating. I know the stress it is creating for them. Somebody might say, well, we are not going to take certain action but any one of us who has been contacted by a collection agency it automatically gives anybody stress and undue hardship. I didn't see that being addressed.
The other comment - I had a number written down but I will shorten it up because of time - the IAP in the Valley, you talked about employment time. I had a call from a person who is legally blind who was told, it is summertime, you can't get assistance, you have to pick beans. I don't know . . .
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Recently?
MR. MOODY: Oh, yes, as a matter of fact, this past week. I though that had changed with the provincial takeover, to be honest. Obviously it hasn't changed in Kings County. I know we have farmers looking for people but someone legally blind isn't going to make much money picking beans. So, I don't know if you can address either one of those. I'll be brief.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The appeals issue, Mr. Moody, I take your point on that. We do need to improve our response time. When we have talked about appeals in the past, in terms of how we might improve the system in the future - and this was really an idea that former minister MacEachern had - it was an idea that there would be some kind of initial first step or a second review at the office level that would be more immediate. So, if people had issues with a particular interchange with a worker, it would be in some ways almost like an office ombudsman which would be a first stage of appeal, usually referred to as an administrative review, so that a person could be expected to get a relatively quick response locally at the site where they are receiving the service. Then if they were unsatisfied with that, there would be the more formal appeal process.
Our appeals unit is very small staff-wise. You have a right perhaps to expect that it would be larger and that there would be better service, and I take your point on that. We are committed to improving the appeal process. We have talked about a number of ways and that may be an area that we would want to get some input from the public, if there are particularly pressing cases, issues or hardships cases, we are always open to having individual letters. I know that is not the most efficient way of doing it, but until we get through the kind of
systems-change piece, if there are individual issues that are particularly of concern to you, then we are open to try to deal with them as quickly as possible.
On the overpayments issue. Again, I take your point on that and I think it's a valid observation and I understand that having a collection agency at you is going to be stressful. It's a balance question for me. It's a question of balancing the public expectation around accountability. You will recall one of the more unpleasant days of my life in the last couple of years when the Auditor General's Report came out and there was a headline in the Mail Star and the Chronicle-Herald, overpayments at $42 million or $32 million or something. Every media outlet in town was calling and saying, what are you people doing giving taxpayers' money out hand over fist. One of the things that they didn't say was that those overpayments went back to the year of Our Lord, 1952, the year of my birth.
At any rate, it is a balance question and each of the jurisdictions is struggling with this issue. We are really emulating, in the work that we have done, a couple of the western provinces, including Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan was one of the first provinces off the mark in this particular area in terms of recovering past overpayments. I would be less than truthful if I said it isn't an issue for a lot of MLAs. It is an issue for a lot of MLAs and our minister is being approached about it by a number of MLAs and it's something that I think we need to look at.
Ultimately, in a public policy realm, it's a balance issue. I think the science on, and I hesitate to use the word, fraud, because as you rightly point out, a lot of it is administrative. Our benefits are paid one month in advance and a good part of it is simply the fact that people's circumstances change after that decision to release the cheque has been made. There is, as well, fraud. (Interruption) Generally, the science says that roughly 4 per cent to 6 per cent of your overall expenditures are paid out inappropriately, whether that's fraud, administrative errors, it's a whole variety of things.
MR. MOODY: One intervention. There has to be and I think it can be documented, when there is fraud, I am not arguing the case, but I think the department knows in many cases why the overpayment was made and what happened. They don't treat me or Laurie any differently if I'm fraud and he is not. We are both treated the same. What I am saying is, why can't the department put some emphasis on dealing with this and if it is not fraud, deal with it? Maybe we are using the wrong term and maybe we are telling the auditor these are all overpayments and in many cases what these people live on is hardly an overpayment. I guess if we could look at it in a different way, so if I am not fraudulent, then I am not treated as if I am a criminal. Right now, there is no difference. I just would like to see that addressed somehow that is fair. That is all. Sorry about the intervention.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chair, two comments. One, just to follow, because that was one of my questions, the overpayment. I understand the auditor said that you had trouble with your computer system so it was not a person fault in many cases, it was computer fault, I think, according to the Auditor General's Report and you are addressing that.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: It is not quite . . .
MR. MUIR: That is what was in the report because I had raised that point with the minister.
Secondly, one of the situations that I have run into this year, on more than one occasion, is of course that the Department of Community Services also deals with the Department of Health and the Department of Justice. I have had cases where, unfortunately, people have been given certain prescriptions to do things but they are tied to people, and I recited one of these cases in the House one day where the person was on vacation and wouldn't be back. Another case was that the service is not going to be provided for more than six months because of a maternity leave. Another case, there was nobody available to do what, in essence, was prescribed. So I guess it is the relationship among your department and the supplemental Departments of Justice, Education and Health. There has to be some improvements.
Now I also mentioned at one time, Ron, this old HESS Committee which no longer operates. I don't know if there is a substitute mechanism in its place now but that seems to me to be something that we need to address as being concerned with community services, is the relationship among the departments because when people are - and I have one sitting on my desk over there where a young fellow got into trouble and it was prescribed to do this and he can't do it because there is no service. He can't follow it. It is just not available. You are going to get a letter about that probably on Monday and be asked to respond to it.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: There is a deputy ministers' committee in the social realm. It includes the Departments of Education and Culture, Health, Justice, ourselves and Housing and Municipal Affairs. We are currently looking, in the deputies' group, at trying to improve that whole area functioning. We have put in place a couple of measures. We have it at the ADM or the executive director level, a working committee across government dealing with children and youth issues called the Children and Youth Action Committee. You may know it as the CAYAC, that is the acronym. I agree, Jamie, there are areas where improvements could be made and I hate to say we are working on them but we are working on them.
MADAM CHAIR: Did you have a supplementary?
MR. MUIR: You will have to excuse me, Madam Chair, I have another appointment.
MADAM CHAIR: I think this will be our last question because we had agreed until 11:00 a.m. We will schedule our next . . .
MR. MUIR: You can let me know when that is going to be.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes, sure, we will.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: I have many questions so I think I will have to set up an appointment with your department to talk to you or members of your staff regarding some of the issues around welfare, particularly around chronic unemployment, chronic poverty that is associated with social assistance or welfare.
The question I have, at Graham Creighton Junior High School, during the last couple of years, there has been a program. Now you had mentioned dealing with families who are at risk prior to crisis, which means that if they are at risk, they won't become crisis. The program at Graham Creighton Junior High School was a program that was set up by parents for the purpose of intervention in conjunction with teachers and students which means that if there are problems within the school or within the home that is preventing the student, who is in Grade 7 or Grade 8, that is interfering with their work at school, this group will come together and deal with the issue along with the child and it is with the parents and teachers and anybody else who is involved.
Now during the past three years, they have been very successful at doing this with very little funds. They have volunteer social workers, educators and other people who come into the school, usually a couple of evenings a week to deal with the parents and the students. They have had some funding over the last couple of years, very little, maybe like $3,000 a year. They have not been able to access funds for the next year. Now the program is successful because they did some statistical information during the past three years in which the students who go from Graham Creighton Junior High School into Cole Harbour District High School, there have been more graduating during the last three years than has ever happened before. They feel that this is a direct reflection of their program, particularly within the Black community. The program is very integrated so they deal with all children.
I guess my question is, is there, in your program, here, when you are looking at policies, is there something in here which would allow those parents and teachers - you are talking about community capacity building, that is part of the model - to be able to assist them in terms of the small funding that they need to deliver some of these programs? By the way, I have sent a letter to the minister.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: To our minister?
MS. ATWELL: Yes.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: We will follow that up with you, Yvonne. On the face of it, there is kind of the separation of church and state in terms of what is Department of Community Services, what is Department of Education and that sort of thing from the point of view of the demands for funding. They are huge on us and I know they are also huge on the education side. I think with that one, we would need to have a little bit of a look at it from the point of view does it sort of get into our bailiwick in terms of services. We will look at that and get back to you on it. If it we can't fund it directly, maybe we can broker something with another department or at least point you in another direction that would be helpful. I agree that there are a lot of those programs out there that are kind of cobbled together by people who are doing it on a shoestring and doing some really good work.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, as a point of information, can I ask if it is a policy of this committee - and I am not trying to be critical - but you had indicated that you would allow one more minute for questions, or one more question. Is there a restricted time-frame in which this committee can deal with the number of questions presented before it?
MADAM CHAIR: Today's agenda has been scheduled and people were told in advance that we were going from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. There are other members of this committee who have planned their time according to that. So I would like to stick to that out of respect to them and their schedule. That is number one. Number two, there is no limitation on our opportunity. We can agree, as a group, to invite members from the department to come back and have more questions and a further discussion on matters that are still outstanding. I appreciate your point, it is well taken. I have a number of questions myself.
MR. PYE: That is the reason why - excuse me, Madam Chair, if I may - if, in fact, another MLA or a colleague of mine has a number of questions and says, well, maybe I might meet with you and your staff, it might be important for us all to hear those questions so that we all have a better understanding of the issues that everyone is facing. Most importantly, it is at this committee level where you get that kind of information and understanding.
MADAM CHAIR: But we do have a time-frame and we should stick to it. Having said that, I would really, on behalf of the committee - I am sure I am speaking on behalf of everybody here - like to thank you. Your presentation was very interesting. It raises a number of complicated and interesting issues that need further discussion and thank you for taking the time and no doubt you will be hearing from us further. So thank you very much.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Madam Chair, we would like to thank you. We enjoyed the opportunity.
MADAM CHAIR: To members of the committee, we need to schedule another meeting and with that in mind, I would like to raise the issue of the socio-economic study on VLTs, the moratorium that was passed in the House on the last day of the session. This committee has been charged with the responsibility of coming back in six months with a socio-economic impact study which means we need to hop to the process of getting the study done.
We have before us here being circulated now a submission with respect to this study. I am wondering, what is the will of the committee? Should we schedule a meeting perhaps in a week's time, or in two week's time, either on July 17th or July 24th, to actually deal with this and to plan out further hearings with respect to the social assistance reform process we have started today?
MR. MONTGOMERY: I would like to see us continue with what we have started here today. For instance, there are other proposals that would come under this with the department staff. Too Good to Lose is one of the areas that they wanted to talk about and prevention. Obviously, I am interested in prevention. I think we should continue with that. Jerry mentions that there are a number of other questions that he would like to ask.
MR. MACEWAN: We have only scratched the surface. There was no opportunity . . .
MADAM CHAIR: Can I intervene for a moment? I am not suggesting for a moment that we move off the program that we have agreed to as a committee, that we examine social assistance reform. What I am saying, as the Chair of this committee, is that we have been given an additional job by the House of Assembly, adopted unanimously in the House of Assembly, to complete a socio-economic impact study on VLTs in a six month period. Now, that resolution allowed this committee to tender that study out but as the Chair, I am not just going to do that. We need a process here of discussing that process. All I am asking for is that we meet with an allocation of time on the agenda to discuss that process and get it going then so that we can fulfil the responsibility we have been given in the time-frame. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, your point is well taken. I think we have been charged with the responsibility from the Legislative Assembly and when you are charged with that sort of a responsibility, there is an obligation upon us to meet that commitment. There is a six month time-frame in which we must have that completed as well. So I would move that we meet on July 24th at approximately 10:00 a.m. to deal specifically with the charging of the responsibilities of the casinos with respect to, from the Legislative Assembly.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Moody.
MR. MOODY: Madam Chair, on that motion, unfortunately I cannot be here on July 24th, but I see this as the way to go. I think we have to put aside, until we get this up and running, and then go back to the very important issued we started on. I think with the time-
frame and the legislation being six months, that before we obviously put it out to tender, we have to know what kind of proposals we are asking for and spend some time among ourselves developing that and then going out and asking for proposals. We will have to, obviously, come back and look at them. That is going to take some time and if we do not start this in July, this process, we will never meet the six month deadline, unfortunately, but I have no difficulty with the way you are going. Unfortunately, July 24th, I cannot be here, I have another commitment.
MR. PYE: The date is not tied fast. We can certainly make arrangements if that is convenient.
MS. ATWELL: Madam Chairperson, what about July 17th? Is that too soon for people?
MADAM CHAIR: Could people meet on Friday of next week, July 17th?
MR. MACEWAN: I would find it inconvenient. We only have two of our three members here today because of these arbitrary dates and it just dropped on you. You cannot always make it.
MADAM CHAIR: With all due respect, the dates are not arbitrary. They were set at our last meeting and the date of today's meeting was agreed to. It was not arbitrary but . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Well, in my view it was.
MADAM CHAIR: . . . your point is well taken. We will . . .
MR. MACEWAN: It was set, fixed, that is what I mean by arbitrary. It was fixed on the calendar, a circle around it, arbitrary, not flexible.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, we have a motion on the floor for July 24th. Is there a seconder for that motion?
MS. ATWELL: I will second it. I don't think there is, Madam Chairperson, one date that is going to be good for everybody during the summer, because people are taking vacations and that sort of thing.
MADAM CHAIR: How many people who are here today could come on July 17th? Raise your hands. How many people can come on July 24th? There are actually more people who can come on July 17th. What we will do, Darlene and I will canvass the other members of the committee who aren't here, and we will let you know as soon as possible. We will do that by Monday. It will either be July 17th or July 24th.
MR. PYE: But it will not exceed July 24th?
MADAM CHAIR: It will not exceed July 24th. We will continue on with the work of this committee.
MR. MOODY: If I could, could I raise a question, Madam Chair? I know we decided on Fridays when the House was in session and all that. Is that what seems to be the problem, or is no day a good day. I don't want to open up or revisit a can of worms, but what I am trying to do is to accommodate as many people as possible. I would like to see as many people here as possible. I don't know now whether Friday in the summertime is convenient to everybody, or whether there is a day. I just raise the issue.
MADAM CHAIR: I think that is a really good point, and that will become part of what we will discuss then as we canvass the members of the committee. I think there are a number of issues, one of them is other days that committees are meeting, people's membership on other standing committees, the availability of space for our meetings and the support staff. We will take all of those factors into account, we will try to ensure we have quorum, which is five members. We will try to accommodate the greatest participation of members of the committee, because I know people want to do this work.
Is that agreeable then? We will try to find the best time, and we will meet within a two-week period to deal with this. The major item of business will be the VLTs, but I am wondering if people would agree that we would also talk about scheduling out the public hearing process in September, if we can, if time permits at that next meeting as well. Would that be agreeable?
MR. PYE: Public hearing process for?
MADAM CHAIR: Social assistance reform.
MR. PYE: Restructuring, reform. Yes, agreed.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Is there anything else? Then thank you very much, we will see you within two weeks.
[The committee adjourned at 11:18 a.m.]