MADAM CHAIR: Keeping people on schedule, I think we will start. Good evening. It is very nice to be in Sydney and in Cape Breton. I am Maureen MacDonald, I am the MLA for Halifax-Needham and the chairperson of this committee. Perhaps we will go around the table and each member can introduce themselves, and we will do it this way.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. We may be joined by one or two other members of the committee and if and when that occurs, we will stop for a moment and have them introduce themselves to guests here this evening.
I assume that you have been given the order in which people will be asked to come forward and present to us. The process is really one as informal as we can possibly make it, so people will feel comfortable. If you have written briefs, you may wish to read from them, but you don't have to read from them, as you may just want to summarize the points or speak to particular issues. If you don't have written briefs, that is fine as well. You may just want to come and talk about your concerns and some of the issues or recommendations that you want this committee to hear. At the end of your presentation, members of the committee will either ask you questions, maybe ask you to clarify points you have made, or speak to further issues that you have touched on that they would like to know more about.
That essentially is the process. I think people have been given a fairly limited period of time in some way to speak on what is a very complicated and important issue. Individuals have been asked to speak within a 20 minute time period, and groups that are presenting to confine their remarks to 30 minutes. If at all possible, we are hoping that you will be able to do that so everyone will have a chance to speak.
If there are members out there on those chairs who would like to speak, who haven't been added to the list, it is possible to speak to the committee tonight while we are here, if you would like to do that. Darlene Henry, who is the Clerk of the Committee, who has just come in, will take further names and let us know.
Now, without taking up any more time, I would like to start by asking Glenda McIntyre to come forward please. Okay, the Family Rights Association of Nova Scotia, William O'Neil. He's here, but in the hallway, so we will come back. How about Corinna Dupuis? Lillian MacEachern? Okay, thank you.
I should just say before you start that the select committee is one where everything is recorded in Hansard, just as if we were in the Legislature and this is why we have people from the Legislature, the recording people here, the microphones and what have you. Thank you.
MS. LILLIAN MACEACHERN: Excuse me. You will have to forgive me if I am a little bit nervous. I am not used to public speaking. I am great at talking, but I am not too good in groups like this.
I would first like to say good evening, Madam Chair, guests of the committee, and to the ladies and gentlemen in back. My name is Ms. Lillian MacEachern. I would just like to read over what I have written down here as to how I feel as a recipient of social assistance and just read off what I have and then, if you want to ask me some questions on it, I am a little bit nervous about that, but go ahead.
I am here tonight to give my views on social reform as it relates to individuals receiving social assistance or applying for assistance. I have encountered the social service system and have a few concerns as to the delivery of services and what services are available to whom. I do not find very much uniformity in the system and it is not user-friendly in my opinion. I am aware of cases where policy and regulation were not properly implemented. I feel that the workers delivering the services to the client need to be better trained in their positions and better aware of policy and regulations. There needs to be more uniformity in the system province-wide and also more respect shown to the clients entering the offices at Community Services in any part of this province.
The programs in place at present need to be enhanced and other services offered to both the unemployed, the single parent and also the disabled. The implementation of these programs and the eligibility requirements have to be gone over rigorously and the workers that take the information and okay the client to access the service or enter into the program have to have the knowledge of how to determine eligibility and placement of that client.
The worker is the core of providing any service, and focus should be on having better trained workers who have the proper knowledge of their duties, the programs available and how to implement the services and programs. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Perhaps we can start and have some questions then. Mr. Muir.
MR. JAMES MUIR: Ms. MacEachern, you mentioned about a program needing to be enhanced. Do you have any specific suggestions about that?
MS. MACEACHERN: Programs being enhanced. I feel there are certain needs that people have, a point in fact - maybe I am not answering your question properly here, Mr. Muir, but I'll do as best as I can on this - I have a case right now, a family member, and I am just giving an example here to you and the committee, he's in hospital and he just found out he has diabetes. He is on social assistance disability for schizophrenia and has been for the past number of years. I found out today the boy will be released from hospital. He's 24 years old. He will be released probably on Friday.
What I am getting at is I feel right now he's in need of an emergency cheque for food as a diabetic. Today we were told that he may have to stay in the hospital for the rest of the month, they're not going to give him an emergency cheque. Now, if he goes home with these special needs, and I feel if anyone has special needs, an emergency cheque should be issued to that person, especially in a condition like this or under circumstances like this. If he goes home, or is dismissed from hospital tomorrow or the next day, within two days that boy will end up back in the hospital. He could end up in a coma and die. He could end up in diabetic shock and that terrifies me. My heart aches for him.
Like so many others in the system - I have been one of them myself - I don't feel that we should have to fight with our social workers and bicker with them and argue with them and go over their heads. They threaten us; they tell us this. We threaten, you know, and then we rebel and bounce back. I know they're only doing their job; they're following orders. They have to go through their superiors, their bosses who, in turn, sometimes you have to go to Halifax and then Halifax refers you back to Sydney. It is like you get the run-around and I feel it is wrong, but in the situation right now that he's in - I wasn't even going to come tonight to speak, I wanted to, I had made arrangements to do so and I have done so - my heart is broken. I don't think anybody understands. The social workers do not understand how I feel.
This young man, if he's in need of an emergency cheque right now for food, special diet food that he has to have that he does not have at home, and they will not provide a cheque for him, it is wrong. He didn't ask to get diabetes.
Madam Chair, they try to make us feel as comfortable as possible, but it is like when you go in their office and you sit down and talk to them and you're trying to explain to them that, okay, this is a diabetic patient we're talking about and then you hear back, well, is he going to have that the rest of his life? Well, I mean I am not that educated, but I know anyone who has diabetes, they are going to have it the rest of their life. Then you're told, well, he may have to stay in the hospital for the rest of the month until his cheque comes in at the end of the month. Rather than give him an emergency cheque, if they keep him in the hospital, it is going to cost approximately $500 to $700 a day in a hospital. The father is all upset. I am on heart medication and everything else, and I am stressed out over this.
I am sure there are a lot of people who are on social assistance and are in the same boat that I am in, that a family member is in right now. This young man has no mother. I am the mother figure in his life and have always been there for him. I have been through hell and high water with this young man, a very fine young man, who hasn't asked for anything from anybody, but it is not his fault that he is sick right now. I feel that there should be a change there for people, if they're in need of an emergency cheque, you should not have to argue with the social worker over a phone and say, well, I am going to go over your head and call Halifax. Then you call Halifax. Some worker says, well, you go back to Sydney and go through them. It is like running around in a vicious circle and then I get stressed out and get sick over the fact that I am getting the run-around.
MADAM CHAIR: Can we see if there is another question?
MS. MACEACHERN: I am sorry, yes, I took pretty long, but it is just that I am upset over it because I have been to the hospital earlier today.
MADAM CHAIR: That's okay, fair enough. It is very stressful. Mr. DeWolfe, do you have a question?
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Thank you for coming, Ms. MacEachern. You have identified a concern you had that workers should be better trained and you have had some experience where you feel that the training is lacking perhaps at the front-end delivery to the consumer?
MS. MACEACHERN: Yes, I feel that.
MR. DEWOLFE: In your answer - you may address this too - you've also identified that perhaps respect is lacking in some cases or that you feel that maybe they're not as compassionate, the workers there, as you would like to see. Has that been a general feeling you've had when dealing with Community Services and so on?
MS. MACEACHERN: Yes, sir, absolutely. I have worked most of my life. I am 52 years old, and I have been on social assistance for probably the last 10 years. I do a bit of volunteer work in this community, to give back to this community. That's not bragging; that's just stating that I try and give back to my community if I can help out. However, I find whenever you do contact your social worker about anything - it is not all the social workers, I want to state that clearly - some of them I find are just arrogant. They make you feel like you're down here and they're up here and that is wrong. I am a human being like other social assistance recipients. We should not have to be made to feel less than human and, considering the fact that I live in the number-one-rated country in this world, I expect to be treated fairly. I expect to be treated with dignity, not insults or arrogance, and I think anybody in this room who's on social assistance knows exactly what I am talking about. Thank you.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. First, Ms. MacEachern, I am very pleased that you're here this evening. I am very pleased that, in fact, you found the time to come out. I must say that MLA DeWolfe stole my questions I was going to ask you. One, with respect shown to clients entering the office, and I would hope that you would elaborate a bit more on that if you possibly could, and the other question was, and my question is in response to you implying that the service is not user-friendly - I am wondering if you can elaborate to this committee what you mean by not user-friendly and the lack of respect shown when entering the offices? I would imagine that's the eastern region office that you're talking about?
MS. MACEACHERN: The one here in Cape Breton, yes. By user-friendly, it is when you enter the offices, you sit there and wait as long as you have to, and you know, we'll get to you when we can. I know they're busy; I understand that, but sometimes you're waiting for hours. I have seen people sit in that office up there cry while they're waiting. Some are harassed and this should not be. They are public servants. I am not saying I want to be treated better than anybody else, but I do want to be treated with dignity and I am a human being. I have paid taxes in this province and on my island. I think one thing that I have concerns about entering the office, it is like intimidation sets in and a lot of us feel that. So that makes us a little bit fearful to say anything. I am even fearful to say anything here tonight when I shouldn't be. You know what I mean. It is like . . .
MADAM CHAIR: You're doing very well.
MS. MACEACHERN: . . . I have politicians all around me and I have the honourable Mr. Downe here, you know, and I am thinking, well, I am little old me, but still I am me. I am a person. We are all persons. It is difficult; like I said, I have never gotten up and spoken in front of anybody before. I am very nervous. Right now I am shaking. I don't know if you can sense that or not, but maybe in my voice, and I know some of the questions I am probably not answering the way you would like me to answer them, but I do have Grade 9 education, not much more.
However, I know what's happening in Cape Breton. I have had to deal with it, not with just myself being disabled. I am not disabled to the point where I can't function but, like I said, I am on heart medication. I have degenerative arthritis in the spine. I think the workers could be a little bit more friendly to people coming into the offices. Not all workers are like that. Like I have said before, they're not all like that, but you do have a few that think, well, we're giving you the cheque, you know, we're not giving you anything. You're getting nothing here, go home, don't bother me sort of attitude and I don't think that's the place for it.
People have to show compassion and if you don't have compassion, you have nothing. I am full of compassion for other people. That's why I do my volunteer work with St. John Ambulance. I do what I can do. I work out of an office at Centre 200. I don't do physical work. I do paperwork and I direct other people and assign them to duties and whatever they have to do here on Cape Breton Island. That's my main job there, but I have been there for over five years now. I enjoy what I do. I treat people. I have seen sickness. I have treated it. It makes me feel good about me; it gives me self-esteem. That's something I find when I go to social services, they lack the understanding and they sort of put you in the position where you feel I am down here, but I am not down there. I am up here where she's at or he is, and I think more respect has to be given to the individuals that are on social assistance.
Like I said, I have worked for a number of years. I worked, in fact, for the federal government in this country. I worked for the provincial government in this country, but I have never experienced in the past two weeks alone what I have had to go through with a family member who is sick in a hospital and was told - he's supposed to be released on Friday - he may have to spend another two weeks there because they don't want to give him an emergency cheque and he's a diabetic.
Do I want my nephew to come home, or a family member to come home, no food in the house and find him dead in the bed because he's in a coma or shock from diabetes? No. It's wrong. Treat us with respect and dignity. We deserve that.
Some of these workers have to be told that they have to show us respect. We are not dirt, we are human beings and please treat us that way. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any further questions?
Thank you very much.
MS. MACEACHERN: You're welcome and thank you.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Madam Chair, before we go on, this lady obviously faces a very urgent personal crisis. Now, I was late and I didn't hear her submission, but I gather what it is. I don't think, though, the Department of Community Services is represented here tonight. We are here to hear representations, but we are not here in the sense of being able to take action, like, immediately. Are you from Sydney?
MS. MACEACHERN: Yes, I am, Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: You are, all right. Well, I will let it go at that. I just wanted to point that out. I mean, if you want me to do something, let me know privately. I don't think this committee is in a position to . . .
MS. MACEACHERN: Oh, no. Sir, I wasn't implying that you would . . .
MR. MACEWAN: I wish it were.
MS. MACEACHERN: You know what I'm saying?
MR. MACEWAN: Yes.
MS. MACEACHERN: Like, I'm saying, it's like I have to fight the whole system in order to get anything done for the family member and I shouldn't have to find myself up against a brick wall . . .
MR. MACEWAN: No.
MS. MACEACHERN: . . . and a young man's life is at stake. No. That's not right, and my heart is broken. I thank you all very much for listening and giving me the opportunity to express my feelings and my views. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms. MacEachern.
Is Ms. McIntyre here now? Welcome.
MS. GLENDA MCINTYRE: Hello.
MADAM CHAIR: Hello. Go ahead.
MS. MCINTYRE: My name is Glenda McIntyre. I am here on behalf of single, disabled people who are being discriminated against.
I have rented houses for nine years. I was told by social services that I couldn't get a house because I had no children. In two of the houses I rented, I put up with toxic fumes, carbon monoxide poisoning, and I was froze to death with electric heat in the other house that was not insulated at all. Social services would not provide me a place to stay. I am now in a rent-to-own house. My social worker asked me why I needed a place to live. I called Human Rights stating that I am being discriminated against and that they should help me.
Someone that I know who is on a disability had to fight for two years for a wheelchair ramp and an electric wheelchair.
Why is it that people can work and have children, can get free oil while they are in the Cape Breton Regional Housing Authority - along with low rent - meanwhile, single, disabled people are supposed to stay at home with their parents?
I am currently working two hours a day because of bad nerves from staying in the house. My social worker told me to sign a paper releasing information on my bank account. I think it is disgusting that I am getting harassed to sign a paper for working two hours a day. I made an extra pay because of the months that had five day periods. They are deducting $15 for the next year off my cheque; meanwhile, the money I am allowed is lower than the amount that I need. I now have to pay property taxes and water without government help and would like to know how come other people can get government assistance.
I pity anybody that ends up sick and on a disability pension trying to survive on the amount they give us. Thank you for listening and I hope my time was not wasted.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. I am going give people on the panel a chance to ask questions by going around and around, that is the plan.
Ms. Atwell, do you have any questions?
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: On here, you talked about working two hours a week?
MS. MCINTYRE: Two hours a day.
MS. ATWELL: Oh, okay, two hours a day. That is paid work?
MS. MCINTYRE: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: Maybe you could explain to us a little bit. How does that fit into the amount that you receive on social assistance? Is that an add-on or is that integrated into your money?
MS. MCINTYRE: Well, what they do is they deduct $100 off my cheque and 75 per cent off the other amount that I make. I make $308 a month and they give me $543 to live on.
MS. ATWELL: That's in total?
MS. MCINTYRE: No, total all together is $850.
MS. ATWELL: Okay. Thanks.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery?
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: No, I don't have any questions.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: Glenda, do I know you?
MS. MCINTYRE: Oh, yes, you were probably at my door.
MR. MACEWAN: All right, where is your door?
MS. MCINTYRE: It's in New Waterford.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, what street?
MS. MCINTYRE: My street now is Aylesford Avenue.
MR. MACEWAN: What number?
MS. MCINTYRE: 4244 Aylesford Avenue.
MR. MACEWAN: It is 4244. Now, you're trying to get into Cape Breton Regional Housing, you said?
MS. MCINTYRE: No, I'm not now.
MR. MACEWAN: You're not.
MS. MCINTYRE: I don't need their help any more.
MR. MACEWAN: Okay, good.
MS. MCINTYRE: I'm renting to buy.
MR. MACEWAN: Good, good.
MS. MCINTYRE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: All right. Well, I don't know if there is anything else I wanted to ask you, Glenda, but I certainly hope things work out for you. I do.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. Glenda, first of all, you indicated that you have a disability, but you did not tell us what your disability is.
MS. MCINTYRE: I am almost totally deaf in one ear; I have two discs deteriorating; scoliosis; I have a bowel problem, bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome. I go to work in pain. I throw my guts up going to work.
MR. PYE: The other question I have for you is that you said that they are deducting $15 off of your allotment that you are allocated for the next year, and is that because they consider you to have an overpayment?
MS. MCINTYRE: Yes.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Downe.
HON. DONALD DOWNE: You're working two hours a day?
MS. MCINTYRE: Because I have bad nerves, I couldn't stay in the house any longer or I would lose my mind.
MR. DOWNE: Yes, well, I would probably get to that point sometime in my life too where you kind of get claustrophobic. When you're working, you find that beneficial. Is the goal to try to get into a point where you can, maybe, even work more hours?
MS. MCINTYRE: I can't work any longer than two hours a day.
MR. DOWNE: Just because of the disabilities?
MS. MCINTYRE: Because of my disabilities.
MR. DOWNE: I see. One of the big issues is trying to find a transitional program in Community Services or any program where people that do want to work . . .
MS. MCINTYRE: I want to work, but I can't work eight hours.
MR. DOWNE: Yes, and work toward getting out of the program, that you're not penalized because you do work to the extent . . .
MS. MCINTYRE: Oh, they love doing that and insulting you too.
MR. DOWNE: Yes. What I hear back home - and from the previous speaker - I hear that a lot back home as well, but the comment about, you know, what's the point of going to work because I'm so penalized to work? Why can't you find a program that encourages me wanting to get out to work or, in your capacity, working to the point as far as you can work.
MS. MCINTYRE: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: There are thresholds, but there should be a transitional program there. I think they have been working on trying to find that vehicle. I understand there is a cap, there is only so much they can do, but try to encourage people to get away from the system who, maybe don't need it where you, in your case, do.
I would like to hear your comments about that. What do you think government should be doing in regard to changing the program to allow people some dignity when they do go out to find a job - maybe it's a minimum wage job - but to get them to the point where they want to get away from the system?
MS. MCINTYRE: Well, number one, people who are disabled shouldn't be discriminated against because they have no kids. Number two, to get out to work they shouldn't be cutting their cheques, they should be raising them, you know, like, give them the amount they had and then keep, like, I'm only making $308 and now that I'm renting to buy, I have to pay taxes and water and they don't care. That is the amount I'm allowed because I'm a single, disabled person and that's it. That's the only way . . .
MR. DOWNE: So the thresholds aren't high enough?
MS. MCINTYRE: No. That's my maximum, $714 and if I starve, too bad.
MADAM CHAIR: Can I ask you if you were affected by the reduction in social assistance to single people for shelter allowances from $325 a month to $225 a month?
MS. MCINTYRE: No, I think that's the people that have children that are in the housing.
MADAM CHAIR: This was a change that affected single people only.
MS. MCINTYRE: No, I wasn't involved in that.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. I was just wondering.
MS. MCINTYRE: I never heard of it either.
MADAM CHAIR: I have one further question. At the beginning of your presentation, you say that you were told by social services that you couldn't get a house because you had no children. Can you explain that to me a bit more? Were they prepared to assist you with shelter in an apartment or . . .
MS. MCINTYRE: No, they were not.
MADAM CHAIR: So it is a question of no shelter allowance whatsoever.
MS. MCINTYRE: I had shelter allowance, but I couldn't get a government house because I had no children.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay.
MS. MCINTYRE: So it was a discrimination because I'm single. I shouldn't be able to have a house, I should stay with my parents, is what I was told.
MADAM CHAIR: Right. Thank you. That clarifies it. Are there any further questions?
MR. PYE: Just one question. Are you telling me, in Cape Breton or in Sydney, New Waterford, the Glace Bay area, or in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, that there are no subsidized units for disabled individuals?
MS. MCINTYRE: That's right; there are none.
MR. MUIR: What about those with children, Jerry?
MR. PYE: It's obvious those with children. Okay, but single disabled . . .
MS. MCINTYRE: There is no housing whatsoever.
MR. PYE: There are no subsidized units available?
MS. MCINTYRE: No, and we have to pay full rent.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any further questions? Thank you very much.
MR. MACEWAN: I just wonder if I could get one in before you go, Glenda, because I would like you to explain to the people here, you do work, you're allowed to make, is it $100 or $200 a month?
MS. MCINTYRE: I'm allowed to make $100 a month . . .
MR. MACEWAN: It's $100 a month and you're allowed to make it without penalty.
MS. MCINTYRE: . . . and 75 per cent off each dollar.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes. After you make the first $100, the next $100, they slice $75 off your assistance? That's how it works?
MS. MCINTYRE: It's 75 per cent, yes.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, 75 per cent, all right, okay. Well, I don't think there is much more I can ask. I know this, of course, that those numbers have stayed the same for about 20 years or more. They haven't changed, and 20 years ago $100 was a lot more than it is today.
I just wondered if you could explain to the people here how it works, because it is a point that I've been making before this meeting began - and I'm just trying to use your situation as an illustration of what is wrong - that should be changed. You should be allowed to earn more because if 20 years ago you were allowed to earn $100, today it would be $250 if you just adjusted it.
MS. MCINTYRE: Well, it's $200 if you have children . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, I know that.
MS. MCINTYRE: . . . because they need more than I do. They need more housing, free oil and all kinds of new windows, new doors, you know, but I'm not allowed.
MR. MACEWAN: Okay.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Is there anybody here now from the Family Rights Association of Nova Scotia? William O'Neil?
MR. WILLIAM O'NEIL: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: Good evening. Any time you want to start.
MR. O'NEIL: Okay, good evening. My name is William O'Neil. I'm the Executive Director of Family Rights Association of Nova Scotia.
I've dealt with a number of cases in relation to Community Services and the providing of assistance to individuals not only in the Cape Breton area, but in other areas of Nova Scotia as well. I am very glad to see that this committee has been struck to look into this issue; it is an issue that I have been dealing with for quite some time now. I have gone through the summer report concerning the improvements and efficiency in the system.
The previous two speakers have identified some of the problems that they have encountered in relation to obtaining funding through these programs. It has been identified here that one of the first problems that has to be dealt with within the system is in fact the front-line workers that are there providing both the services and also the programs in relation to the Department of Community Services.
The very first thing I have run across in dealing with these cases is in fact the lack of knowledge of some of these front-line workers in relation to the different criteria that is being used to determine: eligibility; what the policies are in regard to how much assistance should be provided; who it should be provided to, and what programs and what services are available to the individual in relation to what they do need.
The first area that should be addressed is in fact having the proper training allotted to these individuals so - and I refer to the people who enter into Community Services as clients as opposed to consumers - when these clients come in looking for the service or program that would assist them in relation to their day-to-day living, I think the individual that they approach to have this service provided should have the knowledge of what services are
available, what the regulations are in regard to the funding that is to be made available, and also how to implement the services and how to implement the programs.
Policy and legislation or regulation, I think, is a key issue that needs to be dealt with, and I think there needs to be some recommendations from this committee concerning the workers having the knowledge of the policies, and the knowledge of the regulations concerning the providing of assistance and the providing of programs. Uniformity, I guess, is one of the key things in this. I have handled cases and this organization has handled cases across this province, and that is something that has been identified, the lack of uniformity across this province as to what is available and what isn't available. I have found that even the types of programs or services that are supposed to be available in each and every area of this province is in fact not available in some of those areas.
The other difficulty I have run across in assisting individuals in obtaining assistance or obtaining services or some of the programs across this province is in fact attitude. I have found that a lot of these individuals that I have gone in with, one of the very first things that usually occurs in these cases - when I end up involved in assisting somebody in relation to the difficulties they are having - the very first thing I have met with in each of the different areas is in fact both the front-line worker and the supervisors informing the individuals that I come in to assist in obtaining funding, they have been informed that I was not allowed to be present with them. They were told that if they were going to have any discussions or any meetings with the individual that they had to be alone in those meetings, and that another individual was not allowed in with them.
I don't think that is the policy, and I don't think that is the procedure that should be followed. Some of these people are disadvantaged; some of these people are not aware of the policies and the regulations concerning the funding that is to be allotted to them, and to have somebody there that has this knowledge would be of great benefit to them.
The other difficulty that I have a great deal of concern with is in fact the attitude of some workers, when these clients come in to address their needs, to make them aware of the difficulties they are experiencing, especially in these emergency-type situations. I deal with a number of emergency situations where emergency funding is to be allotted to these people and that emergency funding very seldom occurs. I have had clients who have been told that there is no emergency funding, that that program was dropped, that that program is no longer in existence and if they are looking for any funding, they are going to have to wait until the end of the month or the beginning of the month - whichever the case may be - to have that assistance provided to them.
Again we get back to what I had addressed earlier, uniformity in the system. If there is a policy or regulation there, then those front-line workers should be aware of those policies and regulations. I don't think it is fair that a person would go in, in that type of a situation with an emergency-type situation, difficult circumstances taking place, and not be provided
funding based on the information as long as it could be verified that the information was correct which, at most times, could be verified. I think, with the previous individual who gave a presentation, that was readily identified. A special needs situation concerning - and I will directly relate it to what the individual spoke about - a diabetic and something necessary immediately. That information can be gained quite readily, and a worker could check into that within hours and in fact have something done to alleviate the difficulty.
One of the most crucial things that I think should be looked into is the allotment of emergency funding. You have individuals who go in that do have emergency-type situations. This could be a situation where an individual has possibly just arrived in the area, they have no funding available to them or, as a matter of fact, I will take it a step further than that - and I have dealt with that also - this could in fact be a person who has been involved in a domestic situation where there has been domestic violence and that person has absolutely no funds available to them whatsoever. That person should be able to go to the Department of Community Services and have an emergency amount of funds allotted to them until determinations are made as to what is going to occur with that individual.
I have seen situations also where individuals have received notices concerning payments that have been made to them, and that the payment was classified as an overpayment. They were informed that these monies would be deducted immediately. I think that is a situation that should not be occurring, especially in a situation where you have either a disabled individual or a family where those funds are crucial to them. I think, and I know there are policies in effect that allow the worker to create an overpayment. Most of these types of situations are not one-time situations. It is not a question of this person receiving one block sum of assistance and the following month, they are not going to be there anymore. Usually most of these cases are relatively long term, and the Department of Community Services does have the ability to create an overpayment to deal with that situation.
One of the other situations I deal with quite extensively is in fact individuals who because of, at times through no fault of their own, have an instance occur and they end up receiving a notice that they are eligibility has been cut off. They were left usually with a week or two to be able to take steps to deal with that. I am aware that there is regulation and policy that would allow the Department of Community Services to again create an overpayment in that type of a situation to give that person at least a minimum of a 30 day time-frame to be able to deal with that.
To take a family, especially in the middle of winter, cut off their assistance with virtually no notice, to have no rent available to them, no food available to them, and only a week or two to be able to deal with the situation, I think it is incredulous. I don't think that that family or that individual should be placed in that type of a situation. That person could very well end up out in the street, in a rental-type situation if the landlord does not receive their rent on a specific date, he in fact can give them an eviction notice.
There are things that are occurring within the system that need to be changed. Mr. MacEwan has pointed out something that I had forgotten, and that is, today, in the 1990's, we are still dealing with an allotment of funding that is based on values from at least 20 years ago. I think that is a difficulty also.
The clawbacks and the way clawbacks are dealt with within the Department of Community Services, I think is reprehensible. People are forced to sign agreements if an individual ends up in a situation, especially with an electric heat situation where they run into a bad winter where the weather is extremely cold and their heating bills are somewhat high for that time period, the Department of Community Services forces that individual to sign an agreement - through no fault of their own this has occurred - for a clawback. Those monies are taken back from them month by month by month over a period of time.
You could have another situation where a person is on oil heat and ends up with a break in the line, with a leaky tank, they lose their oil, have to replace it and, again, you are left with the same situation. The Department of Community Services will inform that individual that they would have to sign an agreement if they want that replaced, and they would claw that money back on a monthly basis at so much per month.
I understand that there are situations that do occur that create overpayments. My problem is how those overpayments are determined. In an emergency-type situation such as I have given examples of with the loss of oil, with an extended electric bill for heat, I don't think that could be considered a clawback situation, but if a person ends up with a duplicate cheque - I will use that example - yes, I can understand that. I can understand that being a clawback situation, and a certain amount of that taken back. I do have a little apprehension with that.
This committee should in fact look into: one, uniformity in the system, having it uniform across this province, the policies and guidelines implemented on an equal basis across this province; two, I think this committee should look into the treatment that some of these clients are given when they go into the offices to access the services that are there; three, the programs that are given across Nova Scotia, not in one particular area, but across the province, programs that should be accessible across this province should in fact be implemented across this province; and four, this committee should in fact look into the amounts that are being allotted to individuals, to families across this province, to make those somewhat uniform.
I do realize and understand that there are different standards of living even within this province, that you would not pay the same amount for rents in Cape Breton as you would pay in the Halifax area. That is somewhat different, but there is a formula that could be used to ensure that the amounts for accommodations can be kept at the same level, and when I say the same level, I mean if somebody is using 25 per cent of their income for housing in Cape
Breton, then it would be 25 per cent of the income also in the Halifax area. I think that area should be looked into.
The policies regarding clawbacks and the policies regarding the denial of assistance once a person is determined eligible, I think the policies there need to be reviewed, and that there should be extended time-frames given when an individual is told that they are no longer eligible. I think they should have at least a 30 day time period to be able to deal with the situation. I don't think that any monies should be held back that would jeopardize a family, that would necessitate them either being in the street or living in a shelter until they could determine whether or not their assistance should have been removed from them. I think these are all areas that this committee should look into and also make recommendations for changes.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Mr. Muir, do you have any questions?
MR. MUIR: I just wanted to follow up a little bit. I am not all that familiar with your organization, Mr. MacNeil . . .
MR. O'NEIL: It is O'Neil.
MR. MUIR: I am sorry, O'Neil - and I do have O'Neil written down - I apologize. You talked about being an advocate for clients, and that it is not allowed, or at least you have indicated that it is not allowed. Do you get many people coming to you and requesting you go in, or a representative from your organization or perhaps somebody else to go in with them when they are dealing with the Department of Community Services' personnel?
MR. O'NEIL: That is correct. I was in the Department of Community Services offices in Halifax yesterday to deal with the situation. One of the things that strikes me as coincidental is in fact, in this booklet - in the Rebuilding the System discussion paper - it talks about uniformity. I don't know if it uses the word uniformity, but I sat in an office in Halifax yesterday, an office of the Department of Community Services, with an individual who was informed that their benefits would either be reduced or cut off.
I had requested that the worker involved in this particular matter provide me with some information as to how they arrived at the eligibility for this individual. This individual does have children, but is in somewhat of a difficult situation concerning a custody matter. The individual was receiving family benefits; the individual was transferred over to IA, income assistance. I was informed by the particular worker that we are still working under two systems right now. I did request information regarding policy in relation to what funding would be allotted to this individual and how. They proceeded to pull out a policy to inform me that this was the provincial policy in regard to this particular matter. Upon a closer look,
I discovered that the person was using a regional municipality policy manual as opposed to a provincial family benefits manual. They quoted a policy in that manual and quoted one part of the policy and neglected to quote the last sentence of the policy, and the last sentence directly related to this particular situation.
My difficulty was, this individual, this worker should have been using the provincial benefits policy manual that I know and am aware that they had full access to. The individual should have been placed on family benefits as opposed to income assistance. This is a single mother with children. Even with the policy that this individual brought to my attention, the policy was quite clear as to what income should be provided and how that income should be provided. The last part of the policy related to majority access under a court order. This individual had court orders giving majority access.
The difficulty was the Department of Community Services did not believe that the person was actually having the physical majority access; that is not a determination for them to make. It is not in the policy. The policy relates directly and solely to what was legally there for that individual under a court order and, under the court order, that person had majority access.
MR. MUIR: I guess you are saying that there are a number of cases where there is no advocate for somebody to help a person in the type of situation that you just outlined that happens too often.
MR. O'NEIL: There are a number of things, and I will go back approximately a year ago, here in Cape Breton, there were a number of single women in this area who were disallowed benefits against regulation, against policy. Those individuals were fortunate because I believe there was a group here that ended up going in and advocating for them and those benefits were reinstated to my knowledge. I am not sure whether they were but to my knowledge I believe they were reinstated.
For any government office to inform any community member, any citizen, that they have to sit in a room alone to have a discussion concerning these types of situations I believe is reprehensible. Anybody has the right to have somebody with them in any discussion and that right, especially in these type of situations, should not be denied to that individual.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: I just want to say thank you very much for presenting your report to this committee. Many of the concerns that you have have been brought to my office by my constituents. I am delighted to find out that the clients are allowed to have someone with them because that is not the policy in Pictou County and that was brought to my attention just last week by a constituent. Again, I just want to say thank you. I am not asking you a question but I thank you for your information.
MR. O'NEIL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. Mr. O'Neil, I do have some questions for you. Question number one is you have made mention with respect to the attitude of front-line workers and these are individuals within the Community Services Offices. I am wondering, have you ever lodged any complaint to the regional manager with respect to the attitudes of front-line workers?
MR. O'NEIL: Yes, I have.
MR. PYE: And your organization is such that I would imagine that you do keep statistics. You keep statistics on the nature of the service that is being provided by the client?
MR. O'NEIL: That's correct.
MR. PYE: And the number of services and the number of appeals that have gone through your office, do we have access to that kind of information from your organization?
MR. O'NEIL: I usually don't involve myself in appeals or the organization doesn't involve itself in appeals and we don't keep those type of statistics, but as to individuals . . .
MR. PYE: No, no, other statistics as well. There are other statistics relating to Community Services as well?
MR. O'NEIL: Yes.
MR. PYE: It would be interesting to have some information from your organization with respect to, not names but cases that you have dealt with, how they've been handled and so on and, in fact, the number of gains versus the losses. Also the other question is, I am very pleased to see that you made one very clear recommendation and that was an increased allotment to emergency funding, that I am very pleased. You did mention that there is a 30 day time-frame in which, I believe you were talking about the appeal process when you were talking about that, and individuals being cut off. It is my understanding from the Deputy Minister of Community Services that when a person receives notification that they are no longer eligible and they have the 30 day right to appeal that, in fact, their family benefits are not denied, that they continue to get their benefits until such time as the appeal has been heard. Is that incorrect?
MR. O'NEIL: That is incorrect, sir.
MR. PYE: Okay, then we do have that on record. I guess you have made mention of the implementation of program services then and policies. Have you or your organization decided that you would make some recommendations to this committee in writing?
MR. O'NEIL: That is correct, sir.
MR. PYE: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Madam Chair. I was just wondering about the cut-off of assistance that you mentioned and without the requirement of the 30 days. Is this a regular occurrence and, if so, how regular would you say that it is, this sort of thing?
MR. O'NEIL: I deal with usually at least one case per month where an individual receives a notice, usually within two weeks of the end of the month, to inform them that they will not be receiving their cheque at the end of the month, two weeks, and that person has to try and figure out what they can do in that two week time-frame. A lot of the cases I have dealt with where the people have gotten this notice that in two weeks their benefits will be cut off, I would say about 80 per cent of the time it is the fault of Community Services that it is being cut off. It is through no fault of the individual themselves at all, at the fault of Community Services.
They do have the little clause at the bottom of the notice stating that you can appeal this decision within 30 days. In other words, if you don't appeal the decision within 30 days, you can't appeal it which I don't see this and usually these types of situations are in a courtroom or a judicial proceeding. To have that 30 day time-frame there I think is just incredible. Very few people in lower income situations can even attempt to have an appeal done and especially within a 30 day period. It would be extremely difficult for them to even do that unless there is something in place where that individual has access to a system in doing that appeal.
I have canvassed this province on a number of occasions concerning advocacy offices in this province. Every time I have canvassed this province concerning opening an advocacy office to deal with these types of situations as well as other types of situations, I was informed no. I know of many other provinces that do have, in fact, advocacy offices, not only advocacy offices but "advocacy legislation". This is one of the few provinces that does not have it.
I think, again, we go back to the uniformity. I am aware that there are policies regarding the denial of benefits. I am aware that there are certain time-frames and I believe the time-frame is, in fact, 30 days where you can receive a notice but your cheque is not cut
off. You have that month, that 30 day time period, to supply information to the office as to what the difficulties are. Then you can have a notice stating that the following month the benefits could be denied. On top of that there also was a provision within the regulations that allows the Department of Community Services, especially if they have a long-term client, to create an overpayment. It is much more beneficial to create an overpayment and if the situation is proven correct, then they can claw the money back. If it is not correct, fine.
Again, it comes to implementation and uniformity concerning that implementation. I think that one of the key things with these situations is garnering that uniformity across the province, garnering that uniformity with each and every front line worker that deals with the client, that they are aware of the policy, they're aware of the guidelines and they're aware of what to do and how to do it.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. O'Neil is a very passionate and persistent advocate and I think you've seen just a little bit of that here tonight. I agree with most of what he says although he and I on occasion disagree but that's another story. We agree more than we disagree I hope.
Your idea about an advocate service I like. We have it already with the workers' compensation. You know that. There's an office of worker advocates funded by the Department of Labour with professional staff to assist anyone that has problems with workers' compensation and feels they need help.
MR. O'NEIL: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: Would you be able to explain to this committee something of how these services that are in existence in other provinces operate, who funds them and if they would be in any way comparable to what I have just mentioned for the injured worker?
MR. O'NEIL: None of this has been staged, believe me. Yes, I have done an extensive amount of checking concerning advocacy across this country. Advocacy is in place in almost every province in this country, I believe, except for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. There's an advocacy office, I believe, in New Brunswick. There's an advocacy office in Quebec. There's an advocacy office in Ontario. I am not sure about Manitoba but Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, these offices are in place. Most of the offices are funded, I shouldn't say most of them, all of these offices are, in fact, funded provincially.
In three of the provinces they actually have advocacy legislation. As a matter of fact, I do have a copy of the advocacy legislation concerning the Province of British Columbia, I believe it is. Most of the services provided in those offices directly relate to children. Most of these offices are, in fact, child advocacy offices. They deal mostly with child protection, child
custody and access matters but I am aware that they also deal with some other family matters on top of that.
I think it is a necessity that this provincial government ensure that there is an advocacy office in this province, an advocacy office that would deal with family issues, that could deal with issues relating to individuals involved in "Department of Community Services" services that are provided, programs that are provided and it is a necessity that that type of an office be set up in this province.
MR. MACEWAN: Would I be allowed one supplementary question?
MADAM CHAIR: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: It will be a very short little one. That is the type of thing that this committee could recommend. I mean I guess that's what we're here to do, to hear ideas and if we like them, to recommend them unto government. Now, I feel that one of the worst things and most drastic things that can happen in someone's life is to get a notice and sometimes it doesn't come in written form, very frequently it is a telephone call and sometimes it is just simply the cheque doesn't show up and then you find out afterwards and if somebody was on assistance long-term, like you say, cut off, usually because of suspicion of cohabitation or something of that type.
Now, I think there should be some place that people like that can turn for help. Your organization is there for that purpose. Do you know of any other such services? I know a lot of them, of course, when this type of thing happens, they might come to their MLA. I do more of that type of thing than any other single area of advocacy but nonetheless could you outline to the committee what type of advocacy services now exist in Nova Scotia for those that need help when they get in this kind of a situation and don't know where to turn?
MR. O'NEIL: The only actual organization that I have ever been aware of that does this type of situation, and I am not even sure if it is in existence any more, it was, in fact, in the Halifax area. There was an advocacy office.
MR. MACEWAN: A welfare rights group.
AN HON. MEMBER: The Welfare Rights Organization.
MR. O'NEIL: Yes. I don't know if that's still in existence anymore. I had a great deal of respect for the individual that was running that office. They did a tremendous amount of good work and I am very disheartened now to hear that's not still in place.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Downe, do you have any questions?
MR. DOWNE: Yes. I congratulate you on your presentation and attitude. The education of staff is an issue that seems to be coming around a few times here tonight. One issue, the fact that we have now moved toward a single-tier system vis-à-vis the kind of a mosaic of systems that we had before and every region was treated a little bit different, the benefits were different in Springhill with our provincial and municipal assistance program, do you think the fact that we're moved into a more harmonized system now that there's a better chance that people will be treated more fairly and equitably across the board or do you see that there are certain areas in the province, or offices that you worked through, actually have different approaches to dealing with the concerns of individuals than in other areas? Is it a legislative issue, is it an educational issue, do you see a change in the program that is currently in place now, that it is moving in the right direction, or is it the whole thing should be revamped?
MR. O'NEIL: You just hit the key words, that the system needs to be revamped. Regardless of what has been put in place, or what has been in place, no program or service is any better than the person that is providing the service, that is implementing the service. If you're going to put a good program out there, you need good people behind that program to ensure that it is implemented properly. I think that is one of the key issues. We come back to the educational side of it and ensuring that the front line workers, or the individuals that are there to provide the service that has been put in place, has the knowledge of what the service is, who it can be tailored to, and how to implement it. That is one of the very first areas I see lacking with any of the cases I have dealt with and that is you go in to speak with the worker. You can have the same worker or you could have the same client speak with three different workers and be given three different explanations of what a service or what a program is.
MR. DOWNE: What I found in my own area, the worker had so many case files to deal with, it was really quite ridiculous. There have been more people brought into the system I understand throughout Nova Scotia to help alleviate some of the pressure of trying to deal with 300 files, or 300 individuals, or 300 cases, or 600 cases in some instances and I can understand some of their stress that they go through trying to deal with that many cases. I understand there has been a change to that. You haven't seen any effect of that to date? These individuals are humans too. They're not all bad but they're under a lot of stress as well.
MR. O'NEIL: I would never paint everybody in one system as being bad. I have met a lot of good workers. I have met workers who really care about their clients and are trying to do the best for their client. My difficulty is, and I hope you can appreciate that, I, myself, deal with a great many cases. I find that if I know what I am doing, if I know how to do it, and I know what I can access for an individual, it makes my job 100 times easier. I can deal with a lot more cases, and I think you could be able to understand this, it is a lot easier to deal with a case that goes smoothly than it is to deal with a case that doesn't.
MR. DOWNE: Well put. The last question, if I can, just on the clawback, you were talking about the clawback program on the overpayment and how to make that transition. If I understood it correctly, if somebody was overpaid, the process that currently is there doesn't work, in your view, to be fair?
MR. O'NEIL: That is correct.
MR. DOWNE: In regard to how to deal with that if there has been an overpayment and there's an appeal to that overpayment, or whatever, your recommendation of change to that is what?
MR. O'NEIL: There need to be clear guidelines concerning what can and can't be clawed back. That's the very first thing.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. In the interest of time, I know we could probably ask you many more questions but we have more presenters. Thank you very much.
MR. O'NEIL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Is Corinna Dupuis here? The Schizophrenia Association, Joe Bruce and Ralph Ferguson.
MR. JOSEPH BRUCE: Madam Chair, gentlemen, I am going to read this brief because it is a heck of a lot easier to read it. We have four major points that we would like to bring forward and if there are any questions, you can ask after. The report emphasizes the importance of getting people back to work. For people with schizophrenia, the nature of the illness is such that people with schizophrenia are vulnerable to a relapse when under stress. Many would like to work but are able to return to the workforce only gradually and when they're stabilized and frequently can only cope with part-time employment. Social assistance programs must be flexible enough to ensure that those working part time do not risk losing assistance, especially Pharmacare coverage. Schizophrenia is usually a lifetime disability. For this reason we believe that the Family Benefits Program should continue to have specific criteria for people with this disability recognizing their complex and long-term needs. Do you want to read number two?
MR. RALPH FERGUSON: A second point we would like to bring is this, that families are already bearing a substantial burden in caring for their relatives with schizophrenia. Roughly 60 per cent of people with this illness live with a family member who is also their primary caregiver. They do this without benefit of any available respite programs and frequently with no access to counselling or financial assistance for themselves when the demands affect their own well-being.
Also being the primary caregiver distorts the natural supportive relationship of the family to the person who is disabled and affects the quality of life of the whole family. It is particularly stressful for elderly parents caring for a middle-aged son or daughter who has been dependent upon them for years. They wonder, what will happen when we are gone.
MR. BRUCE: Item 3, we believe that people with mental or physical disabilities that make them unlikely to find full-time employment should be provided with an individualized level of support targeted to their specific needs. These might include a need for daily living skills, recreation or social opportunities and the best treatment available. What is required are trained caseworkers with more manageable caseloads, identifying those most in need and connecting them to appropriate resources. Person who are mentally disabled who are living with their families must not be forgotten. Unpaid family caregivers who are themselves under financial and emotional distress also need help.
MR. FERGUSON: The fourth point we would like to bring to the panel, in the summary of the report, it is stated, "A clear message imparted by community agencies is their need for stable funding. The government has to determine what support mechanisms they want in place and what agencies are best prepared to provide those, and adequately fund them. Otherwise, agencies' time is taken up with fundraising efforts that detract staff from what they should be doing: helping the clients".
MR. BRUCE: That is our brief.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. I am going to start down here with Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you very much for your presentation. I guess maybe there are a couple of things that you could explain a little more clearly. Those individuals living with family members, are they themselves on benefits or are their families expected to take care of them? Do they have drug plans and that sort of thing?
MR. BRUCE: Like we said, 60 per cent of all the people with schizophrenia, statistically it says, one in 100 in the world are afflicted with schizophrenia, 42 million. I understand the last census that was taken in Nova Scotia, there is 900,000, so there is 9,000 afflicted with schizophrenia, and really you have to multiply that by three, a mom and a dad and at least one sibling. I would say in 50 per cent of the cases, there are no benefits involved. If there are no benefits, I would say 90 per cent, or a great number of people, with this illness smoke a lot. This is a terrible expense on the families.
I always maintained that, not only for people with schizophrenia, but what we have been listening to tonight, the money should follow the person, not the person try to follow the money.
MS. ATWELL: I just have one more question. Those who are capable of working part time that you also mentioned, are there no benefits or are benefits cut or is there any support in terms of assisting with medication and that sort of thing? People who work part time.
MR. BRUCE: I can relate to one person who was employed by one of the larger banks to do filing or envelope stuffing or whatever, and it was more or less, I guess, on a contract basis for about three months, and he reported this to social services. His funds were cut, and they won't return them, because he is capable of working. This is what they are saying. He has to go in and give up his apartment and move in with his parents, who are 73 and 75 years old. Like I say here again, the money should follow the person. If he made $300 a month, and he was on benefits for $800, why shouldn't the $500 continue on while he is working. It is building his esteem up, it is helping him in rehabilitation.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: No questions. I just wanted to emphasize my support for the idea that individualized programs based on the person's need would be the requirement in that case. I would support that, certainly.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: Ralph, I want to pursue further this matter that you have raised of people who are on family benefits, disabled people not being permitted to, even on a short-term experimental basis, work. As an advocate, I am sure you are familiar with the Canada Pension program. I wonder if you could compare the approach that Canada Pension takes to this same situation with their long-term disabled clients, where they are permitted to work on an experimental basis for a number of days, weeks. You tell us about it, just so we can make that comparison.
MR. FERGUSON: I believe when a client or a patient is able to work, and if they are able to qualify for the Canada Pension disability benefits, which are extremely difficult to access . . .
MR. MACEWAN: They are hard to get, but they can be got.
MR. FERGUSON: Yes. You must be persistent, you must have a good medical doctor to back you up, and you must not give up.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes. That is right.
MR. FERGUSON: Many people who deserve them, do not get those benefits.
MR. MACEWAN: That is right. I agree. Once you get them, tell me about that. When you get an opportunity to go back to work on an experimental basis to see if you can do it, they will let you do it, Canada Pension will. Do you know about that?
MR. FERGUSON: No. I am not too clear on that policy.
MR. MACEWAN: All right. You are not either, Ralph? All right. Well, I can advise the committee myself. I just thought you men would want to make that comparison, because in actual fact, Canada Pension would permit a disabled person to go to work on a trial basis to see if they could do it. If they work, my belief is 30 days, I haven't looked this up, it is either 30 or 60 days, on the 30th day, then they are considered able to work on a full-time basis. But if they work up to the 29th day and then say, I can't do it, they are permitted to work those 29 days without loss of disability benefits. That is how another program handles this type of situation. It might be a useful benchmark to compare with.
MR. BRUCE: If they did manage to work 31 days, would their benefits then be cut?
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, they would, but they would have the knowledge that if they did that, they would lose their benefits, and during that 30 day period, they would have opportunity to reflect each day on what they were doing, and if they wanted to go that route.
MR. BRUCE: But on the 32nd day, if they had a psychotic episode and could no longer work, they would have no benefits.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, I can't speak for Canada Pension, Joe. I would presume that if there was a new development, such as you have just mentioned, that they would take that into account. I am just saying that in the normal course of events, this is their policy. It strikes me as, I am not saying enlightened, but it gives a person more of a chance than the idea that if you take a single day's work, God help you. That is pretty drastic.
MR. BRUCE: Yes. You are right. I agree. It is an opportunity.
MADAM CHAIR: If I might, I have a question I would like to ask. You began your presentation by saying that you found the Department of Community Services discussion paper has placed a fair amount of emphasis, if not the predominant emphasis, on getting people back to work. I am wondering if you could comment on whether or not you saw in the discussion paper any public policy direction that spoke to people who would not be able to get into the labour force. Is there any recognition of that in the discussion document from your reading of it? You didn't see anything. Okay.
MR. BRUCE: Maybe I missed it or whatever. But no, I read it about four or five times and I didn't see anything. We got the assistance of our executive director to go over it half a dozen times as well.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes. I guess then, given that Nova Scotia is the province with the highest number of persons with disabilities of any Canadian province, then that would be probably fair to say that it is extraordinarily short-sighted or an oversight that that isn't included in that discussion document. Is that fair?
MR. BRUCE: Yes. Because it is very rare that somebody with this illness can go back to work on a 40-hour week sort of thing.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes. Although I don't know the statistics today, but certainly in the past, the vast majority, more than 60 per cent of persons in receipt of social assistance in Nova Scotia were persons with disabilities. This as well would suggest that it is an important area to address in terms of any social welfare reform, doesn't it?
MR. BRUCE: In some cases, it is a case of survival, really, yes.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes, thank you. Mr. Muir?
MR. MUIR: Thank you, Madam Chair. I found your presentation very interesting and very helpful for me.
Ralph, I believe one of the points that you mentioned is that the government must decide what agencies it will support and fund them. Could you just clarify that a little bit more for me?
MR. FERGUSON: Thinking that most of the caregiving now is done by family members, friends, private individuals and so forth, the government should pinpoint, through social services or through grants to organizations such as ours, the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, to deliver programs through volunteers who save the government and the taxpayers untold amounts of money when it comes down to dollars and cents. However, if the provincial government can see its way clear to increase grants to agencies such as ours, I am sure it can do much good.
MR. MUIR: Yes, you had indicated that an awful lot of time for a good many support agencies, whether it is for schizophrenia or some place else spend a lot of their efforts in fund-raising, rather than providing a service to the people who they are intended to.
MR. FERGUSON: Yes, that's correct.
MR. MUIR: I think that whole issue is something that we, as a committee, have to consider, not only in the case of the people for whom you are providing representation but right across. This idea of grants to agencies that do a lot of work, that if it wasn't done by these volunteer groups - for example, when Mr. O'Neil was here, his group would certainly
fall into that category. That is an issue that we are going to, I think, have to address. Thank you for raising it.
MR. BRUCE: Maybe to further respond to that, over the years we have, as caregivers, made presentations to jails, the correctional centre, Marconi Campus, UCCB, high schools, police, RCMP. We are trying to get a partnership program together with a person with the illness, a caregiver and a professional person to go out and speak, to try and increase the awareness and lower the stigma. We have been doing this for a good number of years.
We also provide what we call survival kits. If somebody is diagnosed with the illness and the caregiver calls us, we will mail - I have mailed caregiver kits to Newfoundland, everywhere. We are providing, I think, a useful service for caregivers.
MR. MUIR: I just wanted to follow up a question. You folks are representing the local group. Do you think that it is likely that we will receive representation or presentations from other members of the Schizophrenia Association? You're part of our province-wide network, I guess that is really my question?
MR. BRUCE: Yes, Ralph is the President of the Schizophrenia Society, the Cape Breton Branch and I am the President of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, all of Nova Scotia.
MR. MUIR: Okay, so you are representing provincial?
MR. BRUCE: Yes, and I'm sure, as you go around the province, you are going to get more of our people.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: I have no questions at this time, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just want to make it clear, we are not all as well-informed as we should be. I want to make it clear that I understand, a person who is suffering from schizophrenia is a person who has a neurological, psychological disorder, right?
MR. BRUCE: That's true, yes.
MR. PYE: Okay. I guess, because of this, there is extreme difficulty in placing them in full-time employment.
The other concern that I have is with respect to, do you believe - and this is a question that I am going to ask you - that governments take advantage of a person who is a primary caregiver, who is, in fact, assisting these individuals who have this disability, simply by not providing sufficient funding so as to allow for respite care, et cetera? I should say?
MR. BRUCE: Yes, it is kind of twofold. Like, my son lives at home. He always has. Fortunately, I am in a financial position where - we are doing okay but there are a lot of families. I am only 39 years old. I was married when I was 9. (Laughter) We are in our 60's. We are getting old and we are concerned that there is no cause and cure for schizophrenia. We are wondering what is going to happen to our son when we go. That is 24 hours - as long as we are awake in the day and the night, we are concerned about this.
Like I said when I first started, wouldn't it be wonderful if the money would follow the person and not the person have to follow the money? It would make it so much simpler. They can't have self-esteem. I'm sure my son would like to go out and live in an apartment or try independence - he is 42 years old - but if the money is not there, there is just no way that I can help him, that kind of thing. So, yes, there is a role for the government. It is a two-way street. We have to do our share.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Downe, do you have any questions?
MR. DOWNE: I just compliment you on your presentation and especially, from a provincial level, coming here, the local representative. I would like to delve more into the dollar following the person than the person following the dollar. It is almost like when you provide a grant for businesses, or whoever, they will follow a grant whether they need it or not just to get the grant. It might not be part of the business plan. They will follow the grant. That is a little bit what you are talking about here, I guess.
MR. BRUCE: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: I know the department has been working on some of those initiatives. It is a very complicated process because everybody is a little different and every circumstance is a little bit different but it is worth pursuing, for sure.
MR. BRUCE: Yes, we get a small government grant every year. This year we are going to devise a business plan to see if we can elaborate, plus look for extra funding because we have a lot of services that we should be offering the public and caregivers out there. We ask the question to the people who receive our grant submissions and we go through quite an ordeal. I don't know, it is 18 or 24 pages by the time we finish the grant.
When we make presentations in the field, we ask for a letter of recognition and we pin all this stuff to say, hey, this is what we are doing. We ask the person or the people that receive the grants, do you think we are worthy of the money, the grant that we are getting? They couldn't answer because they don't read it, so this is very disheartening but we are going to make another try at it in October. Thanks for your time.
MADAM CHAIR: The other thing about non-profit groups, they never give up?
MR. BRUCE: No.
MADAM CHAIR: It's a good thing.
MR. BRUCE: You can't eat the whole elephant, you have got to eat him a little piece at a time. (Laughter) I have been eating a little piece for the last 18 years. Thanks for your time.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Our next presentation will be from Molly Maid Franchise, Margaret Dean and Laurie Blanchard.
MS. LAURIE BLANCHARD: My name is Laurie Blanchard. I just have a couple of issues I would like to discuss.
I have been on social assistance for quite a few years, bringing up my sons. In August 1996, I applied for a job at Molly Maid. I would like nothing better than not have to rely on anyone for assistance but that's not possible. I earn approximately $160 a week with Molly Maid. I give a six month review to social assistance of my wages since beginning work. I am told I am allowed $200 a month for a babysitter which isn't possible. You don't get a babysitter for $10 a day.
Then I am deducted a percentage of my earnings which is 75 per cent. Social assistance takes my gross earnings so when I receive my income tax, I will have another overpayment, so they take my gross instead of my net earnings. In my opinion, a person should be able to claim their net and at least keep their income tax without having to give it back.
The issue of Family Allowance, I can't understand the government giving me an increase in my Family Allowance to deduct it one week later from my cheque. One week later it was gone off my cheque. They took the $54 or whatever the increase was, penny for penny.
Another issue. There are women out there like myself who are on social assistance, working, cleaning houses under the table, getting full benefits from their workers. I lost at least $700 a month by taking the job with Molly Maid. I have to be on the road every day, they don't give me money for lunches. Like, the babysitter thing, that is just way out there. So I end up putting in extra. They don't give me enough money to pay my rent, let alone pay a babysitter.
People are probably better off doing things under the table instead of being up front and giving them - every single pay slip I ever had would be deducted until I would, pretty soon, not be able to get anything at all.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MS. MARGARET DEAN: I'm here tonight to voice my concerns on a very important issue. To me, as an employer, I find it very frustrating to interview and to train potential employees, only to find the worker chosen is on IA or Family Benefits. I have faced the problem on six separate occasions. All but one employee has quit in a very short time.
The reasons range from, not enough to pay a sitter to no money available to go out to work. Most of us realize that we cannot expect to be supported by a government cheque and work but in many situations, jobs on the Island are minimum wage or just above.
Places of business cannot all offer 40 hours a week so if a single parent is lucky enough to strike a job paying on the average of $8.00 an hour for 30 hours a week, that recipient of family benefits is penalized by taking this job, a reduction of 75 per cent of the government cheque.
I have seen it first-hand where a great worker is more or less told they are better off sitting home on social assistance to collect benefits and clean a house once or twice a week for cash. This is just one more way the government is causing the underground economy to flourish and no one wins in that situation.
I have another presentation but it is in writing and a copy is being sent to each one. It is a little too in-depth to go into right now but there is a copy to follow.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming. I know it is very difficult. Will you stay a moment and take questions from the committee?
We will start this time with Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Madam Chair. Would you say that if the increase in assistance were there - would it discourage those people who are working under the table, so to speak?
MS. DEAN: I would think. If there is some kind of a transitional time-frame to let a person show that they can work to make a better life - you know, that is the only reason that someone would take a job.
I mean, as a business owner you can't discriminate. I would never discriminate against one person or another when a person applies for the job but I will tell a person on the second day, when the interview is over and they come in for training, I hope you talk to your worker because I have gone through it so many times and it is very costly for me. I started this business with nothing. I employ seven people full time and two people part time on a shoestring budget.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you very much. I also recognize that it must be quite difficult for you. Is it Laurie? Laurie, yes. Maybe you can help us in terms of some suggestions or recommendations that you would like to see as a single mother who is working and trying to get ahead. What recommendations could you give to us to assist you in improving the situation so at some point you may be in a position to work full time and to be able to get off social assistance?
MS. BLANCHARD: I think what is hurting me most is the gross and the net pay. I honestly do. They say, well, we take your gross because in January, if you get $700 or $800 income tax, that is an overpayment, or we will give you two months to live on that. You will get no cheque those months, so we are better off taking it now.
I can't see why, if you did get $700 in January income tax, that is an incentive to go, take this, like, you know, it seems that they're not letting you get ahead at all.
I'm living on maybe a little bit less than I was sitting at home. I'm out every day and I'm working hard. I don't blame people for doing it under the table if this is the way - like, I'm caught every time I see them - there is no incentive to be out there working. Even if they did that or increased the money for babysitters, where I don't have to put the extra $100 to pay a babysitter, you can't get a babysitter for $10 a day; they are not going to do it.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Downe, do you have any questions?
MR. DOWNE: The $160 a week, that's your gross or your net?
MS. BLANCHARD: That's my net.
MR. DOWNE: That's your net.
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes, on average.
MR. DOWNE: It's 40 hours a week, roughly?
MS. BLANCHARD: No, no. We work on commission.
MR. DOWNE: On a commission basis?
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: The issue I find is making that transition. Where is the incentive? The incentive should be to get out of the system, for those who should get out of it versus staying in it. I understand the department has been trying to work toward that goal. The question is, how much is enough?
It becomes a bit of an argument. You're paying people to go to work, whereby I think there has to be a program that has some sensitivity to encourage people. We have people that are second-generation, who have been brought up believing that social assistance is a way of life . . .
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: . . . and it's sad.
MS. BLANCHARD: It is.
MR. DOWNE: When you can go underground, the underground economy, you can do it and you're better off, then where is the incentive to go out and have that self-reliance or that dignity that you're looking at?
I agree with you, I think they have been working toward that. I know it is something that I have been looking toward as well, how do we find that process that will allow people to be able to move out of the system?
I mean, I get people in my office who say, well, gee, Don, I didn't think you were that stupid, I make more money at home doing nothing than going out and working.
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes. And I like being at work. I really do.
MR. DOWNE: Yes, exactly, and they do too. The program is there to help people who can't go to work and we should have programs to help people that need help, but . . .
MS. BLANCHARD: That want to, yes.
MR. DOWNE: . . . for those who are trying to get out of the system, there should be a program. I thought the department was working toward that; in fact, I know they are working toward how to make that system work.
Family Allowance, the government giveth and taketh away. That is federal. I can't . . .
MS. BLANCHARD: You know, they wouldn't even leave me with that, it's only $50.
MR. DOWNE: That is federal, so I'm not going to talk too much about that.
MS. BLANCHARD: Oh, yes, I know that.
MR. DOWNE: From an employer's point of view - I, too, am an employer - we farm and I know a little bit about what you're saying there because I deal with a number of part-time employees as well, certain times of year on the farm. The frustrating part for you is trying to have a dependable labour force that you know that they can survive. You can only pay so much, based on the contracts, I guess, but . . .
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes, on the cost of cleaning, I mean, there is nothing . . .
MR. DOWNE: Yes.
MS. BLANCHARD: I went through trying to get transitional job funding and that's all in my letter to you.
MR. DOWNE: Yes.
MS. BLANCHARD: It was like dancing through hoops and at the end of it, no.
MR. DOWNE: Yes. Well, we are dealing with small business issues and that is another issue for another day, but I think that is interesting, what you are saying, and I agree with you. I hear that and see that myself. There has got to be a transitional point to help people to be able to retain some aspect of the program and move in to another system.
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: I understand that is what the department is gearing for and I think there are some programs that are coming forward with that, especially with the issue of children support programs.
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just want to make one comment. The minister is absolutely correct in stating that Family Allowance is a federal jurisdiction; however, it was the provincial government that did the clawback on the Child Benefit Program.
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes, exactly.
MR. PYE: I just wanted to make that clear with respect to that issue and that, in fact, it was an incentive for the provincial government to take money back from the federal government that probably reduced funding to it over the years. However, having said that, I have some concerns with this whole picture and the reason why I have some concerns with this whole picture is you are absolutely correct that after the first $100, 75 cents of every dollar thereafter is clawed back by Community Services in the province.
I guess my question to you is this, Laurie, if you were able to continue to keep your employment, which I hope you do, and you are able to continue to keep all the amount of money that you are able to receive, plus you are able to continue to keep your Family Allowance, and continue to receive your income tax at the end of the year, would that allow you to not rely upon Social Services, or would you still need an income supplement?
MS. BLANCHARD: Yes, certain times of the year I definitely would still need it. I have been with Molly Maid since two years. I am hoping that I will be off this cheque as soon as possible. All I am saying is, when they take my gross wage, even if it is $100 a month, that is $100 that is not in my home and not in my pocket, and I have to wait until January to get it. If they took the net and they let me keep the income tax, I don't know if I would really have to rely on them.
MR. PYE: That is a good point. My other question is to Ms. Dean, and I'm sorry, Laurie, instead of calling you Laurie, I should have said Ms. Blanchard.
However, Ms. Dean, with respect to your business, I have some concerns around the notion that if, in fact, government subsidizes employees, that employers will have a tendency to take advantage of that because it is a ready market for them to continue to pay employees no benefits, low wages and so on. I know that in the area where you are working, there are some tough economic decisions there that create that kind of a problem.
MS. DEAN: That's true.
MR. PYE: Can you give me some clarity around how you expect the government or what you would like to see a government do with respect to addressing this particular issue of subsidization of employees within the place of employment?
MS. DEAN: Okay, first of all, Molly Maid pays $8.00 an hour. I am not asking for $4.00 an hour. That is how the transitional job fund was working, and the reason it didn't work is because it all has to be fair for every person that applies for a job, the amount of money that a person is allowed for basic living allowance and that is documented, and it is way back from the 1950's or 1960's when it was first put in - comes up to the standard of living, allow a person to have, a transitional period of time and someone has to come up with a magic number and I guess there are a whole lot of magic tricks that have to happen to get this all on track.
A wage subsidy, to a certain extent, is a bad thing. I can see that sometimes people have been approved for a wage subsidy and just had that short period of time, and there was no promise of a job.
We clean houses. We don't go on grants, we don't do anything like that. It is a steady go and as the business grows, so will the employees' wage. The cost of the cleans, during high points of the year when there are more cleans, on average, they work about 26 hours a week.
MR. DEWOLFE: Ms. Blanchard, I commend you for trying to take the initiative to get back into the workforce. Even though you may be suffering financially for it now, hopefully, the benefits down the road will be much better. Also, to you, Ms. Dean, hopefully this committee can make recommendations that will take care of transitional situations, and get the proper legislation in place to deal with that. Again, I thank you for your presentation. I'm looking forward to reading your report.
MR. MUIR: Other than to say thank you very much for describing this, the issue of what is probably generally categorized as the working-poor, which would be . . .
MS. BLANCHARD: That is me.
MR. MUIR: That would be probably be the category and it is certainly an issue that we have to be very much concerned with, and thank you for raising it.
MS. BLANCHARD: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. (Interruption) Mr. MacEwan, I am sorry, I will allow you extra questions in the next round.
Our next presentation will be from the Centre for Housing Initiative, Professor Elizabeth Beaton. Okay, then Al MacInnis, Mr. MacInnis. He has stepped out.
Helen Luedee, Every Woman's Centre.
MS. HELEN LUEDEE: Good evening. My name is Helen Luedee, and I am here representing the Every Woman's Centre. When we first heard about this restructuring initiative, the Every Woman's Centre wanted to see what the women felt about where the changes should be made in social assistance. What we did was hold several focus groups in order to get people's ideas and hear some concerns, and then try to help facilitate some brainstorming sessions so people could come up with some recommendations for change.
We heard a number of concerns, and a lot of times we heard concerns that seemed to be the same concerns over and over again, and other concerns were quite unique. Some of the concerns that were brought up by the women in the focus groups were, first and foremost, that the income of those receiving social assistance is inadequate. Women living on social assistance are living well below Canada's national poverty line.
There seems to be very little incentive - as we heard here this evening - for women who want to return to the workforce. There is not enough financial support to help alleviate some child care costs, clothing costs, transportation costs and other hidden costs that are part of returning to the workforce.
We also heard the same concern tonight about women who need the most help; for example, single mothers are not able to benefit from the federal programs. The raise in the Child Tax Credit offered by the federal government is deducted from social assistance cheques, and we believe that this targets the people who are most vulnerable and who could benefit from this raise. I would like to add that Nova Scotia is one of the only two provinces in Canada that are doing this, and it is the only province in Atlantic Canada that is doing this.
There are certain populations of people . . .
MR. MACEWAN: That is not what we were told by the deputy minister, but I will have questions later.
MS. LUEDEE: There are certain populations of people that fall through the gaps in our system. Young women between the ages of 16 and 19 are sometimes left without any support when they need it most. Young women of this age are not covered under the Children and Family Services Act, yet they are not seen as adults by other agencies such as Community Services until the age of 19. This seems to leave quite a number of people not serviced by anybody when they may need it the most.
Affordable and safe housing for women living on social assistance is not a reality for many. Income tax returns are being taken from social assistance recipients and they are being classified as income. It seems to me that the most logical thing would be - as was mentioned earlier - that if it is going to be taken off monthly or every six months, whatever the case may be, maybe that is when it should be done, instead of waiting until the end, because this may be a way for people to get ahead.
Another concern was people who have to travel for health care. They may have to go to Halifax. There are a lot of single mothers that have to go, for instance, to the IWK with their children. The assistance that they get when they are up there is inadequate. There is the same amount for food allotted whether someone is there for a stay of a couple of days up to several months; this doesn't seem to make sense.
After we discussed some of these concerns, we thought that okay, if we are going to talk about these concerns, we should also bring some recommendations forth to the panel, so the first recommendation was, social assistance recipients should have an income that adequately provides for people's basic needs. The income paid to recipients should be at par with today's actual living costs. Work incentives, such as clothing allowance, gas and transportation costs, lunch costs, and uniforms should be covered.
As well, there should be allowances for babysitting that are at par with the actual costs. The $12 a day that is presently paid is unrealistic in comparison to the actual cost of child care. There should also not be limits on who babysits the children, when covering babysitting allowance. As it stands presently, grandparents for instance are not seen as paid babysitters. Many people need to rely on grandparents for help, and this is probably an ideal set-up where both the child and the parents benefit. If the child knows the caretaker, the parent can go to work feeling comfortable with who their child is entrusted to. With the present system, there is no allowance for grandparents who babysit, and this set-up simply doesn't make sense.
If Community Services wants to help people prepare for the workforce, more support must be given to make people more employable. A university education is a must, and money and support should be put into scholarship funds for women and other people on social assistance, if they are seeking a university education.
Let women on social assistance keep their income tax returns. This money could certainly be used to help families try and get ahead in some way. If the federal government deems it necessary to give a raise in people's Child Tax Credit because they are living in poverty, the provincial government should not take it away by deducting it from social assistance cheques.
Community Services should be pushing for more affordable housing, so that people aren't forced to live in unsafe situations. Community Services should help lobby for non-profit organizations to be provided with grants to hire people on social assistance. These grants help provide practical training. It helps people gain experience. It makes people more employable, and as well, the experience enhances one's self-esteem.
If overpayments are made to clients, the system for repayment should be a little more fair, so that these women are not undergoing undue hardships. Social assistance recipients are barely surviving at the present rates, and if an unrealistic overpayment is taken off a person's
cheque, it makes daily living very difficult. Even in terms of the appeal process, we have seen examples of women coming in, they have appealed but yet it is being deducted right away, before the appeal is even heard. I don't think that is fair.
I think another important thing that came out of these focus groups was that every recipient should be made aware of what help he or she qualifies for. After the initial assessment and home visit, there should be a letter sent to the recipient that states what she qualifies for, why and what to do if there is disagreement surrounding this. It seems, at the present time, there is too many hidden agendas, and people aren't made aware of what their rights are.
Every person on social assistance should be assessed as an individual with individual needs. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, and it doesn't seem that there is allowance for these circumstances.
Often, one of the big concerns that we have here in Cape Breton is the location. There are a lot of people living in areas where they can't reach a place that is centrally located. Even in towns, there isn't adequate transportation to get from one town to another. One of the suggestions that came from the women in these focus groups was that, if it is not possible to have offices located in many convenient areas, maybe we could get a mobile going, something similar to what human resources is doing. This may make the caseworkers more easily available. It could ensure that people are getting the services they require. It also ensures that people are able to contact caseworkers, because even in terms of just phoning them, as everyone is aware here tonight, I am sure, a telephone is not deemed a basic need in terms of social assistance. I think that the assumption that yes, they can go and call their caseworker any time they want to is something that is unfair.
Also, services really need to be created for the people who fall through the gaps. For example, people between the age of 16 and 19. As I said earlier, these people aren't being serviced. If they are not going to be helped by one area of Community Services, they have to be covered somewhere.
Those were the recommendations that were brought forth by the women in the focus groups and, at this time, I want to thank those women for coming out and speaking their minds. One of the things that we heard from the women is that sometimes they don't feel comfortable doing that in public for fear that, if they do so, they may be targetted by their caseworkers or by other people in the system. That sounds very scary, if you hear that people don't feel comfortable speaking their minds. I am glad that they did feel comfortable to come to a place and discuss their concerns so that we could bring them forth tonight. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: Why don't you go first, Maureen? You are more attuned to this type of thing than anyone else.
MADAM CHAIR: Because I am the chairperson and I get to decide who goes first, so you are going to go first. (Laughter)
MR. MACEWAN: All right. Look, it is an excellent checklist of the types of things that we ought to be looking at. I don't know what I can say, they have raised so many valid points that I would be here all night if I was asking questions that arise from this paper.
I was going to comment about the clawback, about the $100 a month that dates from the 1970's, and the $200 a month, you know what I am referring to; these have never been indexed. As you read in the newspaper reports of the Russian rouble losing value every hour, well the Canadian dollar has lost quite a bit of value too over the last 20 years and $100, 20 years ago, would be worth a considerable sum of money compared to what it is today. I don't know how much, but if that amount had kept in line with the depreciation of the dollar over that 20 years, you would today, I am sure, be able to earn $600 or $700 a month without penalty - then, after that, deductions would take place - if that number had been kept abreast of the decreasing value of the dollar.
I was also going to talk about the $200 a month babysitter. I think the $200 a month babysitter would be illegal under the Minimum Wage Act. I recall working in Sydney Steel for $45 a week, and that was $200 a month, but you couldn't do it today, it would be illegal, but that is the amount they allow for babysitting per month, $200 a month, an unrealistic figure, again.
MS. LUEDEE: Probably the only people who would do something like that are the grandparents, who aren't allowed to get paid anyway.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, there you go. And finally, I want to commend you on raising the point about the telephones. I think you should continue to hammer that point. A telephone today is a necessity, it is not a luxury any longer. How can you call your worker to report a problem if you don't have a phone? Yet the budget won't pay for a phone, not even for the basic service, let alone any of the fancy things like answering machines that the government offices always seem to have when you try to get through to them, but that is another story. Good job.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. I will take the opportunity now to clear up some misinformation that Mr. MacEwan gave us. In fact, family benefits were indexed in Nova Scotia for quite some time.
MR. MACEWAN: Were they? No. No. It is the $100 a month deduction that hasn't been indexed, that has stayed constant.
MADAM CHAIR: An erosion of income occurred when there was a deindexation of the rates, and I think that occurred probably in the last four or five years; in fact, I know it did. Minimum wage doesn't apply to childcare workers outside of a centre.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, it should. This committee should recommend that.
MADAM CHAIR: At any rate, one of the things that I would like you to comment on, maybe a bit further, because it was a recommendation you made, you said that assistance has to adequately provide for people's basic needs.
Now we just had a presentation from a worker at Molly Maid and from the employer there. I calculated, as they were talking, what the wage situation is for workers in those settings. Now at 26 hours a week at $8.00 an hour, working every week of the year, the gross income there would be $10,416 annually. One of the things that has always concerned me when we discuss assistance and the adequacy of benefits, is that people talk about the lack of incentive in the social assistance system in terms of going to work, and sometimes I think it is the other way around. There is a lack of incentive in the labour market to get people to work in this way, to work for 26 hours at $8.00 an hour for a gross income of $10,416. I am wondering if you can comment on that, whether or not you think that is a valid sort of perspective, in terms of looking at . . .
MS. LUEDEE: It sounds like it is almost a catch-22, but it seems, from what we are hearing, if somebody is living on $10,000 a year, as each one of us is aware here tonight, if that is the case, they are living well below Canada's national poverty line. In a country right now that is certainly able to provide for people, that just doesn't seem right. Whether or not we are talking about the working poor, or we are talking about people on social assistance, it seems that we need to re-evaluate that and think, maybe we need to supplement in some other way. Those are the kinds of things that I would like to see happening. They may not be the traditional approaches that we are thinking of that may be what we need to see happening in the next time these things are redeveloped. But we have to look at other options.
MADAM CHAIR: Child care, transportation, Pharmacare, those kinds of things that are like a social wage, really, that are in addition to the earned income make a difference.
MS. LUEDEE: Even if someone is able to keep that extra income in some way, I think that would probably save money in the long run, because there is more incentive for people to go out and make their own money.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: A couple of comments. Thank you very much, I appreciate some of these points that you have made. One of the issues that I have run into on a number of occasions this year is that 16 to 19 year old group, particularly young women. They kind of fall through
the gaps. How do you advise these people, your organization, Every Woman's Centre, what advice do you provide to them?
MS. LUEDEE: Sometimes that can be very difficult, because one of the services that we offer at the Every Woman's Centre is, we try to refer services out if we can't help them ourselves. We have made it a point to go and make ourselves familiar with the community and what the community has to offer. One of the problems that we see when women 16 to 19 come through the doors is that there is not a whole lot we can even say to these women in terms of, no, we can't help you right now, but maybe this organization can, because the reality is, there really isn't an organization that can help these women.
We see it in terms of housing, we have a house right now that offers four long-term beds and two emergency beds for women 19 years and older. If there is somebody under 19, we are not able to help them, we are not staffed. There are a lot of things that could happen and that could come back on us. But at the same time, if somebody was in need of emergency housing between that age, they can't get help in places like Community Services, they can't get help with boarding situations, they can't get help at Children's Aid. The message that a lot of these young women are getting is that the only way they are going to be able to get any help is if they were to become single parents. I think that is the wrong message that we are sending out to young women.
MR. MUIR: Secondly, Madam Chair, the organization, Every Woman's Centre, are you connected with other women's organizations in the province, like Women's Centres Connect? Would you be the same type of organization as that one?
MS. LUEDEE: We are part of the Women's Centres Connect group.
MR. MUIR: Okay. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Just one question regarding, in Cape Breton the population is spread out so far and wide and you mentioned the telephone difficulties, and for communities that don't have offices readily available, is any thought given to the cost of transportation to see a caseworker? Also, will caseworkers go to a community to see individuals?
MS. LUEDEE: That is a good point, because there are no transportation costs if somebody in the community wanted to go and see their caseworker. I will give an example of that. One of the places that I held a focus group was in the Town of New Waterford. People that live in the Town of New Waterford are serviced by Glace Bay, which is quite a distance for somebody with no vehicle. The other point is, there is no bus service from New Waterford to Glace Bay. If somebody wanted to go to Glace Bay, they would have to take
a bus into Sydney and then transfer from Sydney to Glace Bay. This is something that basically takes all day.
There is nothing available in terms of trying to get costs to go and cover that. The visits from the caseworker to somebody in one of those areas is something that you don't see very often. You may see a home visit once.
MR. DEWOLFE: I am wondering if that is part of their program. I am more familiar with the workers' compensation, and it was brought to our attention, much to the surprise of most Nova Scotians that caseworkers are flexible enough to go to the areas to meet the people, they just haven't been doing it. I was wondering if that is part of the program.
MS. LUEDEE: No, not to my knowledge.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: I want to thank you for the report, particularly the recommendations, Ms. Luedee. I also want to bring clarity, under concerns discussed, you mentioned that Nova Scotia is one of the only two provinces in Canada that are doing this, referring to the clawback of the National Child Benefit Program. I want to make that clear that every province except for the Province of Newfoundland and New Brunswick are doing the clawback.
MS. LUEDEE: Is that right?
MR. PYE: That is a clarity that has to be cleared here. It is true. I have one question to you. I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of women's centres since getting elected on March 24th, and each and every one of those women's centres brought to me what I thought was a very serious concern, and the concern that they brought to me was a concern with respect to the number of calls that they receive on a Friday from people who need help. That is simply because people are so fearful or harassed, and that was the word that was used, by their caseworkers, that they leave it to the very last minute and then come to an advocacy group or a centre like yours to search out some emergency assistance. Is that consistent down here in this eastern region as well?
MS. LUEDEE: Yes, it is. I would say especially in terms of emergency housing. This is something that we see quite often. There are a lot of people out there, a lot of women who come to the centre that are certainly very fearful. They feel intimidated going to the Community Services office on their own, it is something that I see as a great problem.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: We are having a conversation here about the clawback, and the little jab that came gently toward me earlier in the presentation. (Interruption) Really, that program that we are referring to is geared to help the child and help the individual make the transition moving from the program into the workplace as well. There have been some benefits to that. The overall program that was supported nationally by the federal government and virtually all of the jurisdictions in Canada, at first both the other two provinces of Newfoundland and New Brunswick did sign the agreement to go forward, because they believed it was a good program and then changed their minds at the last minute. The other ones felt it was a progressive move forward - that is crossing over all provincial, political jurisdictions in Canada - that that new initiative for the Child Tax Credit Program is actually a progressive move forward in the whole issue of social assistance and assistance to the individuals.
The New Democratic Party in other jurisdictions agreed to it, the Progressive Conservative Party in other jurisdictions agreed to it, and the Liberal Party in other jurisdictions agreed to it. It is not a political issue as much as they felt it was; governments at all levels felt it was the right move. So did the Province of Nova Scotia. I don't want to get into detail of the debate, but it was meant in the right direction. I am sure we will have to wait and give it some time to see in fact how it works out. We were trying to figure out the name of the program, and I should know . . .
MS. LUEDEE: But it just seems unfair that this program that is supposed to benefit the children, the ones that seem to suffer the most are single mothers.
MR. DOWNE: One of the issues there is the communication of exactly how that new program will be. I don't know if the roll-out has been complete on that. I think the roll-out that is coming out in October, if I recall correctly, and maybe you will see the reality of how that will work at that point in time.
MS. LUEDEE: I hope so.
MR. DOWNE: So just before we gnash our teeth and jump all over it, we better take a look at the program.
I want to compliment you on your proposal and your recommendations. One comment I have in regard to the women's centres - and I work very closely with mine in my area - I understand there have been some major changes at the provincial level, where Ron L'Esperance and Community Services have actually brought together the other departments, the Department of Health and other line departments, to take a look at funding as it were, what dollars are currently being spent in those other jurisdictions and how we can filter that through one agency that would deal directly with women's centres and women's organizations, and taking a look at an evaluation and an assessment of each one of those departments to see whether or not it is a $20,000 cheque that is being given to one group
from Health and some other amount from somewhere else, put it all together to come up with a real good solid program.
There is no question that women's centres groups, from a sex-training program, from a safe-home program to just being in the community helping to assist single parents and families that have been broken up, it is just a tremendous program that they have. We need to keep supporting that. I think what they are doing now is a step in that right direction. In the meetings I have had with Second Story in Bridgewater, as an example, they were fairly encouraged by the process that is going on so far, so there is movement made toward helping advocacy groups and women's organization groups in the province toward that goal.
The last one is that you can write up a program that becomes so socialistic, in other words covers so much, there is no reason why you would ever want to quit, you know? I am not suggesting that that is what we are trying to do in this proposal - the bare costs that you are trying to deal with - but I think it is a matter of taking a look at the fact that this province is the only jurisdiction in all of Canada that in fact has increased money toward Community Services consistently throughout the years. Not that we pay more per person, but we have consistently increased the budget allocation for Community Services since 1993, when other jurisdictions cut back.
We too are concerned about the basic needs of individuals, single parents and children, and those who need help. We have made that effort. I think what you are saying here is that more needs to be done, but we have been trying to do as much as we can, living within our means.
MS. LUEDEE: I realize that, and I would like to point out as well that I believe most of the people who are living on social assistance are not living on social assistance because that is what they are socialized to do; they don't have any other choice. I think, given the choice, most people would rather choose not to, because I don't know if anybody has felt the humiliation of walking into a social assistance office and sitting at the other end of the table from a Community Services' worker, but it is not something I would think that most people would choose to do if they had the choice.
MR. DOWNE: Just to build on that, I agree with you, because they come to my office and they are crying and you are there trying to help them. Anybody feels that; it is a very emotional time. If you have any compassion at all, you are going to feel that pain and concern. The point I am trying to make here is that, notwithstanding some individual caseworkers who may be problematic - there are lots who are good, I am sure - I think what we are trying to establish here is a program that is going to try to eventually get individuals that want to get out of the system the ability to do that. I think that is the fundamental principle of what we are trying to work toward, and allowing that independence and that dignity to come forward. I applaud that. That is what we should be looking toward.
The program should also be broad enough to deal with those who cannot get out, for whatever reasons. They should be able to try to provide basic service and assistance for those people, and they should not feel embarrassed by that. Society should be responsible for those who cannot help themselves, for whatever circumstances they are in. There should be a certain compassion within society to care for those people; they are equal to anybody else in society. I don't think we should be putting a stigma toward them.
MS. LUEDEE: Again, I would like to remind you that all of the recommendations and concerns that were brought forth tonight were voiced by the women who were coming to the focus groups and, again, I think the recommendations and concerns that they brought forth were certainly very valid. I am glad that we had the opportunity to present them here to you tonight.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell, do you have any questions?
MS. ATWELL: Yes, just a few comments. I am very familiar with the women's centres and worked quite closely with Women's Centre Connect. I also know that some of those centres will be slated for closure at the end of March if their funding is not extended. I also realize that all of those centres are functioning on very, very few dollars and are very, very short-staffed. Some of them at this moment today are in crisis.
I guess from your perspective, if you could just tell us very briefly a little bit about staff complement at the centre and what you see in terms of those centres being able to further the well-being of women, particularly women who are going back into the workforce, maybe a little bit older, and women who have children, specifically those younger women, what type of programs would you like to see Community Services come up with to help the centres do the kind of work that they're doing and to ensure that they get adequate funding to do that?
MS. LUEDEE: I think some of the points that we made earlier about the centres being so short-staffed - the funding is just not there - that is certainly a real issue because it seems like more and more people are coming to use the centres, which is something that's wonderful because at least now people are reaching out, but with that I think there may be times when it is just not possible to help everybody if the dollars aren't there. I think the most important thing is that we would like to try and find out what the women themselves want in terms of what their needs are and I think we just have to listen to them and then try and respond as best we can. If there are programs that they feel they need, I think we should try and respond to that in the way that's best going to suit their needs.
MS. ATWELL: I just want to thank you for the recommendations; I think they will be very helpful. I know, in many instances, in terms of the women's centres - as well the whole issue around housing and there's a whole lot of other issues related to some of the problems with women on social assistance - you realize that, and in spite of the shortage I
know that the women at the centres have been doing an incredible job in terms of trying to get together the kind of data and the kind of information to move them forward.
MS. LUEDEE: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: So I thank you very much for that.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I, too, would like to commend you on your presentation and particularly the one that's written here, "A university education is a must. Money and support should be put into scholarship funds for women on social assistance if they are seeking a university education.". I would add to that the words, further themselves in any education. As I see it, then that becomes an incentive to get people off social assistance and to assist them in finding themselves in the workplace.
MS. LUEDEE: Yes, that's right.
MR. MONTGOMERY: So I would support that 100 per cent. Thank you.
[9:23 p.m. Mr. James Muir took the Chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The next group, the Centre for Housing Initiative, Professor Elizabeth Beaton, are you ready now? Thank you.
MS. ELIZABETH BEATON: Thank you very much. I hope to be very brief. I came from a function and I hope to go back quite quickly. I have two concerns. One I am not very familiar with, but it is something I have observed with other people over a number of years; the other one I am more familiar with.
The first one - and I will just touch on it briefly - is the issue of dentistry service to people on social assistance. I don't know how many people in this room are familiar with the process, and I am only vaguely familiar, but I am very aware that there's no preventive dentistry for people on social assistance. Most of the dental work is emergency work; even fillings are almost unheard of. We are talking about extractions almost exclusively and there is a process, but the process leads down to the worst first, or simply the worst getting any attention. So I leave that with you and urge you to look at that very seriously. Of course, it is all tied up with the ages at which children get free dental care and so on, but I think it is a factor in the general health of the community, particularly of people with low incomes. Thank you for allowing me that as somebody who is very inexpert in that area, but I certainly do observe these things.
The other issue is housing. I would like to urge, as I have over the past several years, that there be closer cooperation between the Department of Housing and Municipal Affairs and the Department of Community Services. The cooperation has gone back and forth over
the years, I realize but when you understand, and it has been said publicly that 30 per cent of the community of the social assistance housing, or supported housing, is sub-standard; while we have a high vacancy rate in both Halifax and Sydney and other parts of the province, we have public housing that is boarded up. Yet people on social assistance, rather than have the stigma of living in public housing, will live in sub-standard landlord-owned housing for which is paid top dollar. You would be amazed at some of the rents that are paid for this state of housing. I think we have to look at the stigma of public housing and try to deal with that.
In the community where I live there is one street with three public housing units, quite attractive units, that are boarded up. People recognize these units as public housing. They are vacant and have been, in some cases, for months. There's another street that people talk about, again public housing boarded up. This housing is not great housing but it is a far sight better than much of the rental housing that people on social assistance live in. We have to consider that. We are wasting good housing here.
Now, there are two ways of dealing with this in my opinion. One is to assist people on low income or on social assistance to own their own homes so that they have a stake in these homes, so that when their family situation changes, they don't have to move out of these homes and move out of these communities and become essentially transient. In the 1970's we had an amazing program here in Cape Breton called the Social Housing Association which was locally controlled in a very real sense with assistance from mainly CMHC which enabled people on social assistance with the help of volunteers from the community to own their own homes. People who were assisted by that program are still in those homes and proud of them and keep them up. This was done through the social assistance programs that were in place at that time.
As time went on, CMHC decided that if you didn't have enough money for a mortgage, then you couldn't own your own home. Well, these people definitely didn't have enough money and they used their shelter allowance as a basic mortgage. This can be done again. This is not an impossible task. It has been proven to be very successful.
The other thing we should look at very seriously is co-op housing. Under the current devolution agreement, when the current co-op agreements end, there is no accommodation for new co-ops. I have looked at that very closely. I have asked questions. I can't get somebody to say, nope, no more co-ops but basically that's what we're saying. Yet co-ops may be the best thing that ever happened in housing and we have a whole island here to prove it. From the 1930's right through to the 1970's we had marvellous co-op housing and now we have continuing co-ops in which people of all incomes, of all backgrounds, live together and support each other and pay a percentage of their income so that there's no stigma. There is an interest in the homes. They share the responsibility of upkeep and all those things. So we have to look closely and while you may not see this as directly your concern, I think you should make it your concern and work with the Department of Housing to work toward some
policy of co-op housing so that people on low incomes can have a stake in their neighbourhood.
The idea of community is very important and it is very much attached to people's housing. That's how communities sustain themselves, if they're able to live there, bring up their children, communicate with their neighbours, those sorts of things, have a pride in keeping their yards up. If you were to look at the public housing in some of the areas in Sydney, you will see that inside, people have a pride in the interior of the housing, their homes, even if they're there for a short time. Outside the steps are broken, the yards are muddy. There's garbage everywhere. The siding is getting knocked about and so on. People do not have a stake in the outside of those buildings. Immediately that area is stigmatized. That's public housing. That's where the poor people live. That's where the police hang around all the time.
So there are ways of dealing with that and if we don't deal with it, these communities will have more and more social problems. These people will continue to be transient. So I urge you to look at these two possibilities and I really think that the Department of Housing and Municipal Affairs could benefit by a closer cooperation with Community Services. I certainly congratulate the people who have worked in Housing in Cape Breton over the years. They have worked very hard with fewer and fewer resources to work with. When you have the RRAP allotment per year being the same for five years, the same as it was five years ago, $2.8 million from the federal government, what that means is when the budget comes down, by June it is all gone. So the waiting lists begin and you have the worst first policy coming in again. We have to do better than that. We have to be able to assist people to stay in their homes, to have decent, adequate and affordable housing.
I picked up on a comment that I believe you said, sir, society should be responsible for those less able to help themselves. That's what community service is about and I think I am glad that you said that and I understand that that will carry your standing committee as you go from place to place but it is a social responsibility. It is a human responsibility and we must all take it very seriously. I thank you for your time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Professor Beaton. Could I just ask for one point of clarification before some of the members of the committee have questions. You had mentioned back early in your remarks something about 30 per cent of public housing and I . . .
MS. BEATON: No, no. Housing that is assisted, this is people living in rental housing with assistance from Community Services. They're not in public housing. I am sorry if you heard public housing. What would it be called? Anyway, it is people on social assistance who have their rent paid by Community Services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MS. BEATON: So basically the landlord names the rent, Community Services pays for it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It was the number 30 per cent that I was trying to get a handle on.
MS. BEATON: Well, you can ask Patricia Ripley. She's the person who gave me that number and I can certainly see it . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could you just tell me one more time?
MS. BEATON: Thirty per cent of social services assisted rental housing is sub-standard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I am sorry. I understand that. I thought there was something that you had also said that 30 per cent of the public housing was boarded up or something like that?
MS. BEATON: No, but people will be able to name you streets where three and four houses are public houses.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I had took the term public housing as meaning "public housing" as opposed to people. Thank you very much. That's helpful. We will start with Mr. Downe I guess, if you have a question.
MR. DOWNE: I agree with you on the co-op housing program. It is not just here. It is the West Coast as well. They've done a tremendous program over the years and the pride that individuals take in the outside or the inside, green areas, recreational facilities and so on and so forth, but I would like, if you would, I don't know if you have a written submission or some written suggestions, Professor, but I would be very appreciative if you would take some time to put some of those thoughts down because I do think you have crossed over some interesting areas. I know that Patricia Ripley has talked also about Housing and Municipal Affairs and with Community Services, as she has been deputy minister of both portfolios now, and sees a need to try to co-locate the efforts of the two departments together. So I don't see that being a major reach as much as . . .
MS. BEATON: No, I think that the will is certainly there as far as Patricia is concerned.
MR. DOWNE: Exactly, yes, I get the sense it is.
MS. BEATON: If I can just make a note of something that happened recently, well, in the last year in Ontario, in Alexander Park, which is public housing, that has been turned over to co-op housing. My group is currently looking at doing a feasibility study of the same thing happening in this area. I do think it is possible. I think that we have to look closely at the policies of both CMHC and the Housing Departments in the provinces, in this province in particular, but other departments as well. We also have to look at the co-op Act. Our co-op Act is in danger. If we let the co-op Act be changed in the way that is being proposed, co-op housing will not be feasible. We must stop that co-op Act from being changed to the point where co-ops are no longer co-ops. That's a whole other story but it is very closely connected with continuing to have co-op housing in this province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I just want to say, Professor Beaton, thank you very much. I know that you're very much aware that, in fact, the federal government through CMHC is getting out of the housing business or virtually out of the housing business and passed that responsibility down to the provincial government and the provincial government is certainly doing some of the things that you certainly would not like to see them do with respect to amendments to the co-op housing legislation which, in fact, is a very serious one.
Also, I want to bring to your attention that when people live in sub-standard units or housing, the Community Services Department will indicate that it is not their responsibility. Most of these people who are on social assistance first must find their accommodations before social assistance will give them the basic shelter needs. As a result of this, they in turn pick what they think the accommodations will be and within the price range that will be acceptable by Community Services. That is a catch-22 because Community Services says, look, we did not advise them to locate in that facility, however, that is their responsibility and now that they're there, we're compelled because they have signed a leasing arrangement and so on.
MS. BEATON: Yes, that right of choice is very important but that right of choice is not really a choice because they're choosing not to live in public housing because they are so stigmatized. When their children go to school, they're stigmatized. They're stigmatized in their community because there is considered to be a higher crime rate in public housing areas. The whole atmosphere of public housing, even though the housing itself may be better than the rental housing, their choice is to be less stigmatized and it is very tragic. That is why I am saying there have to be alternatives.
We live in a province where home ownership is still a tradition. It is still a wish of almost everyone. This is not Montreal and Toronto where people move from apartment to apartment. This is where people live in communities and wish to own their own homes and be part of that community for a long time. So I understand the right of choice but I would like to have a freer choice so that you have a choice to do something you really want to do, not something that you have to do or it is a lesser evil.
MR. PYE: One other concern is that my 11 years in local government tended to lead me to believe that public housing developments were placed into zoned areas whereby a larger number of public housing units could fall into so as to economize the development of that development proposal. For many years I have argued against massive developments with respect to public housing because it does not provide the quality of the environment for an individual that they should have and that I believe the public housing should be more spread throughout the municipal unit despite what the zoning regulations may say on parcels of land.
MS. BEATON: Well, approximately 50 per cent of public housing in Sydney is in Whitney Pier; one-sixth of the population of Sydney is in Whitney Pier. That should give you the sense of localizing that particular type of housing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, just a brief question regarding the co-op housing. I, too, am interested in the co-op housing. I have been involved in years gone by with co-op housing and as the chairman of a co-op housing development board. We've had a couple of projects in Pictou County that were very successful. Now, they were continuing co-ops and you mentioned that you're turning some public housing into co-op housing, is that my understanding?
MS. BEATON: I want very much to look at that, yes.
MR. DEWOLFE: Were you considering, like, a continuing-type co-op arrangement?
MS. BEATON: Yes.
MR. DEWOLFE: I think that is a very good idea because it does give the occupant some sense of ownership and pride in their surroundings.
MS. BEATON: But it means that the provincial government must change its policy to enable that to happen.
MR. DEWOLFE: Yes, I'm aware of that. We were briefed by some people involved with continuing co-ops in the spring. I think that is something that, certainly, you should pursue.
MS. BEATON: I will.
MR. DEWOLFE: Certainly, it is something that I am a proponent of.
MS. BEATON: Thank you.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Professor Beaton, I am just wondering, you mentioned about the tie-in of social services with housing. I am just wondering what your reaction would be to those seeking public housing, taking rental accommodation in with seniors, in the seniors residences, when apartments become available. Is that the sort of co-operation that you see or do you think that that is a workable situation or not a workable situation?
MS. BEATON: I hadn't given it a lot of thought but you're right, there is vacant seniors housing in Cape Breton; not so much in the urban areas but, certainly, in the rural areas. I think that would be a very interesting accommodation. Putting all seniors together, while it may solve some problems, is very isolating. Obviously, you know, people would have to make some choices there too. It is a very interesting idea, yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have actually seen some mixture in my area.
MR. MACEWAN: I really don't think I have any questions, Mr. Chairman. I am interested, though, in the Centre for Housing Initiative. What is the Centre for Housing Initiative? Can you tell us about that?
MS. BEATON: It is a centre for research and action into housing issues. It is at the University College of Cape Breton. It has a few people from the university on a core committee and a great many people, depending on the project, our core committee gets bigger and smaller and includes more people as the issue evolves.
We have held conferences and seminars. We did a feasibility study on reusing the building materials from publicly-owned housing, to be resold or reused by low income families. This feasibility study was turned over to the municipality and I hope they are able to use it. Those are the sorts of things that we do. We work closely with CMHC whenever possible, and so on. That is the sort of thing.
MR. MACEWAN: In the interests of time I will pass, Mr. Chairman. I know she wants to go.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Professor Beaton, for taking the time to come with us. I know you did come from another function and are intending to return to it. Now, can I ask you one question that has got absolutely nothing to do with housing? You don't billet anybody from the Cape Breton Junior Hockey Team, do you?
MS. BEATON: Pardon? (Laughter) Do I what?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think the answer then is, no.
MS. BEATON: Okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is a wonderful person by the name of Beaton that billets one of the junior hockey players from Cape Breton and it is not you?
MS. BEATON: Oh, no, sorry. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: He lived with us last year and I am trying to find out where he has gone this year, so thank you.
Is Corinna Dupuis here? Al MacInnis.
MR. MACEWAN: One lady down there wants to make a presentation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Now, just let me go through. We have Angela Currie. Thank you.
MS. ANGELA CURRIE: Hi. My name is Angela Currie. I didn't make up a presentation today. I just kind of came in to listen to see what was going to happen but I want to speak out of my frustrations as to being on social assistance. I am on the disability. I was out on my own for a number of years, raising my two children, but now, as of last November, I had to move back home with my parents and take the boarding rate and go from there with that.
Because the cost of living was so high in trying to make do out on my own, they gave me - I believe it was $603 for shelter expenses; my rent was $450, so I had to allow for my oil, my power and what not out of the rest of that money which made it quite difficult.
I had to give up the phone; I had to give up my cable; I had to give up those things which the kids minded, the cable, and I could not do without a phone. One of my sons is ADD which made it rough. I needed to get to the doctor's; I needed to get to the hospital with him; I needed the phone.
Now my oldest boy, he is in Grade 1 now and trying to get him ready for school is a big expense. They don't want to allow, on your cheque, for a budget for school which is very hard. The schools, they ask you to bring so much. They want certain scribblers; they want the Canadian made pencils. By the time you add up all that, it is quite a little bit of money which you have got to take out from your food budget or you have got to take out from your
clothing. You don't get much of a clothing budget either so how do you get your child ready for school?
Now, I know he is only six. He doesn't need the top brand name items but at the same time, he does need a jogging suit on his back; he does need a pair of shoes. The $40 that they give me for two children - so that is $20 each - that is not going to get you too much of anything. It might be able to send them to school in a pair of socks and a pair of underwear on them. Like, the jogging suit, that has just got to wait until next month. It is rough and they don't understand that.
I called to find out from my worker in Glace Bay if they have an allowance for that and all they tell me is that it is not in the budget. When you ask to see what the budget is, where the budget is at, as the person on assistance, they won't let you see it. But every question you ask, it is always, it's not in the budget.
What I would like to know is, what is in the budget? What is out there for us? Years ago, I went to night school living on the cheque. They paid for my night school courses to go. They gave me a $200 cheque to get my school supplies to start me off at school. Every other month after that, they gave me the $200 a month for babysitting, for transportation, which didn't cut it but it was a help. I appreciated it.
I am not on the cheque to live beyond my means. I live within them. I try to. If I don't get what I need - I don't always have that bag of chips that the kids want. They don't always have the cookie that they want but I try to feed them. So why would they give me the cheque for school but not give it to my son when he is our future, he is the one that is going to be there, hopefully, not on assistance later on down the road.
Then I have the father of the baby. He has gone away now. He is working. He started to pay support but a couple of years back he wasn't working. He was on the welfare too. They were giving him $350 a month, just for no reason, for living home and doing nothing. Why should they give that to him? Why shouldn't they have added that on to my cheque for his son to get his necessities? Why should the single father that can be out there taking the $5.00 an hour job, doesn't have to pay the babysitter, doesn't have to pay for anything and is quite capable of walking to and from work, have the job and give me the money. I can't pay the sitter; I can't go and be quick to be gone out the door constantly. I need to be home with my children, especially where my child has ADD.
Right now, I am forced - I am going to go out, I am going to take a personal care worker course, I am going to try to better myself for the sake of my children so they will have. It is going to be hard and there are so many stipulations that social assistance are putting on me for that. What are you supposed to do? They won't let you live when you're on it but they won't let you live if you try to come off it either.
Another thing is the cable. They don't give you any money for cable on your cheque which, okay, fine, they say it is not a necessity but when you have children, what are they supposed to play with, what are they supposed to do? You need to occupy their time. I can't always be there 24 hours in the house to occupy them. I have chores I have to do around, I have to clean up, I have to do other things. What are they supposed to do?
I can't even think. There are a lot of issues that I wanted to bring up but I am kind of tongue-tied now. I can't talk.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you very much, Ms. Currie. We appreciate these things. I realize that it has got to be difficult for a person to come and share those frustrations with us. Certainly, the entertainment allowance or the cable television is something that . . .
MS. CURRIE: Activity, too, like my child, he will be six on Sunday. It is his birthday then. He wanted to be in baseball this summer. I couldn't put him in. I couldn't afford the $35 to register him into baseball. So I had him crying, Mommy, all my other friends are in it. How come I can't play?
Then you call up, you ask them, like, is that in the budget? Are you able to go and pay for that? It doesn't have to be on my cheque every month, but at the same time, why can't they allow us to call them up and say, okay, my child wants to go into this. It is an extracurricular activity, mind you, but it gets them out there. It gets them dealing with the other kids. It gets them feeling proud. Even at the age of six, they deserve to feel proud. They deserve to feel these things and I cannot give it to them. Shouldn't that be allowed in the budget to call and say, okay, this is it, this is the month that I need this money, will you pay for it? You don't have to give me the money. Call the organization, give it to them yourselves. You can send out the cheque. I don't need it. I'm not going to take it.
What they tell me is, no, mothers do that.They get it and they go drink the money away; they go smoke the money away; they party the money away. Well, fine, if they are going to do that, I'm not, but the way to solve that is, you pay for it. You take the cheque, here is the address, you send it to them. I don't need it. It doesn't need to come to my pocket. You just make sure it is paid so my son can go into it.
The same with the school allowance. They told me the same thing, we're not going to give you a $200 cheque to go put your son through school. I said, well then, have a purchase order at a store. Like, the only one around here, I believe, is Wal-Mart where you can go and have it. They can put a purchase order in to Wal-Mart. I can go in there. I'm not that proud. I don't want to be on social assistance but I will go in there, I will give them my name and say, I'm Angela Currie, there is a purchase order here, I'm allowed to spend this much money. Like, why won't they do that for you even?
Those are some issues. Like, the cost of living, the school allowance, the cable and the telephone. Those are a few issues that I would have liked to have brought up. The dental was another one but that was brought up already.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I have no questions but thank you very much for presenting your case.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: I don't know if I should ask this question or not. I know the answer to it. You are on the board rate with your parents. The board rate is $153 a month?
MS. CURRIE: No, I have my financial statement here as to what they tell me I am allowed to pay out.
MR. MACEWAN: All right.
MS. CURRIE: Like, the board rate that they gave me was $347 for myself and two children.
MR. MACEWAN: All right. I'm very happy to hear that but the board rate for many people that I know is $153 a month.
MS. CURRIE: Yes, that is when you are on welfare. Now, I'm not what they call the Family Benefits Disability. I am not on the IA.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, good. Well, anyone who is on IA should be aware of what Angela just said. If you can somehow get yourself upgraded to the other category, you get more money. I know. I work on it all the time with different people.
MS. CURRIE: It is an awful thing. You're constantly trying to figure out how you are going to gyp the system to get ahead and you shouldn't have to feel that way.
MR. MACEWAN: No.
MS. CURRIE: Like, the father of my youngest boy, we were going together for a while. I felt very insecure being home by myself. I didn't have the phone. It is a safe neighbourhood but it's not. Like, the kids are always causing trouble. They're banging at your door and your windows. At one point I was that terrified I had to sleep at night time with a knife under my bed, terrified somebody was going to try to come in at me and my kids. So I ended up having him move in.
I gave up my disability and went on to what they call the Common Law Welfare. He moved in with me. It didn't work out. He moved away to Fort St. John. I fought with my worker before I did this to make sure if I did it and it didn't work out, can I go back onto social assistance? He told me, yes.
One month later to the day, they made me go back onto IA. I had to take a cut of $120-some in my cheque. I couldn't cut it with $1,048. They put me down to $928 a month, living, for just the sake of a month.
Then I had another worker tell me, get onto disability. Do whatever you can, get onto your disability. You will go back up to the $1,048, which isn't great but it is better - the $128 was oil. They only gave me the $100 for oil but I still had to dish out $115 by the time the taxes were put on it. That worker telling me how to cheat the system, I ended up back up to the disability type of thing which is awful. You shouldn't have to do that but what are you supposed to do?
MR. MACEWAN: I don't know of any other approach to take. Unless we change the system that is a very big thing to do.
MS. CURRIE: Well, it doesn't take a whole lot. Like, just up it even. Like, up some of the amounts that come up to the 1990's, like not be down there. I am sure that the cost of living and groceries alone, for me to feed myself and two kids is more than $200, which is what they allow me for the month, it has to be. I know it is, but I gyp myself, I don't buy the big roasts, I don't buy a lot of the meats. I go to my mom's. I am living there. That is why I had to go back home, because I couldn't feed my children properly, they weren't getting the nutrition and the doctors were concerned with that. You are getting a threat that your kids aren't being fed properly and they might be taken away, what are you going to do. It is not because I was out drinking and partying, that was proven. I wasn't going through Children's Aid or anything, but at the same time, it is a scary feeling, that you can't feed your kids.
If you are a father, you would know. You want to give your kids the proper food, they have to have their meats, they have to have their vegetables, they have to. My kids got it through day care, thank God, not through home, because I couldn't give it all the time; not every day, not on a daily basis.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: No questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Angela. Angela, obviously you recognize that there is no school budget, and that it is allocated to you from social services. Do your children have to pay a student registration fee at school?
MS. CURRIE: No.
MR. PYE: Also, with respect to not being able to receive any assistance with respect to involving your children in sport activities in your community, do you have community organizations who in fact take individuals whom, in fact, cannot afford it, and allow the parents to volunteer for those community organizations in turn for those dollars? This is not to diminish the responsibility of social services, but are these organizations existing in your community?
MS. CURRIE: I am not sure. When I called my worker to find out, when he told me that he couldn't help, I asked him if there was anybody that could. He told me, no, there was nobody out there. I called my worker to find out about school too, if there was anybody out there who could help, and he said, no. He told me, no, there wasn't anybody out there. Later on, I found out that the women's centre was doing up a package to help with school supplies. But it is like, every time I call down there, they tell me, no. It is just, get me off the phone, don't bother with me, type of thing. I can't get answers to my questions when I want them.
MR. PYE: With respect to the sport activities, I might suggest that you contact them whenever your child wants to get involved in soccer, baseball or whatever the sport might be. I do know - and I can't speak for your community - that in my community, even the facilities that are operated by the municipality recognize that individuals are disadvantaged in their community, and as a result cannot afford the fees, the registration fees that are required to become actively involved in their particular sport or activity. Therefore, they tend to allow the individual to come in and the parent then to volunteer their services for the organization, and take it off that way. I think that that in a sense is a good community model. I don't detract from that.
I want to acknowledge that in fact, I have difficulty coming to grips with the fact that Community Services thinks that every individual who is on social assistance ought to sit home and vegetate. I really mean that when I say that. They do not provide you with any extracurricular activity or funds for that, you as a parent or your children. With respect to cable, you are absolutely right. There is absolutely no reason, most cable costs on a monthly basis is somewhere between $30 and $40, and it is so insignificant based on the amount of time and educational programs that are provided by those cable televisions that can assist your children. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: One question in regard to, well I guess we refer to it as, deadbeat dads, the program, the legislation we brought in to make sure that individual spouses had the responsibility of looking after their children, has that worked reasonably well, assuming the individual is working?
MS. CURRIE: Right now, I am in the process. I have two children and they are both from different fathers. One of them, we went through Cynthia Stevens, the Maintenance Enforcement Worker, or whatever she was. But now the other one, I am going through the courts. Every time he doesn't comply with what the courts want, they threaten me to take my cheque away. Whereas, I have no control if he gets that paper in tomorrow, I have no control as to what he is doing. I hardly ever speak to him. He is in Ottawa, I am home in Glace Bay. He has a new family. He is not going to listen to me, to tell him what to do. I lost my cheque over it, already once, because he didn't send the paper home. Then they tell me that if he doesn't, I can put him in maintenance enforcement, and they will give me the money, maybe two to three weeks later.
Really, I don't find it is benefitting me at all, because they take it off my cheque, and I have to wait to get it, because he doesn't give it. He doesn't want to give it. They fight with him constantly over it. It is not benefitting me. My income just keeps going lower and lower. I have to try to find places for it to come, and wait for it to come from the fathers. Why can't social assistance have the fathers send the support to social assistance, why do they have to touch my cheque. I am allowed $765 a month, keep sending me the $765, if Brad has to pay the $120 and Barry has to pay the $282, send it to social assistance. Don't send it to me, I don't want it from them.
You guys wanted it, take it. Just leave me with my $765, so I can deal with that on a monthly basis, not three weeks down the road, will I get the $282, today I will get the $120, you can't budget your money that way when you are living. You have to pay $450 rent, type of thing. What are you supposed to do then? Is there a program that can come out that way, so that the support just goes directly to social assistance, not to us. Is there a way to look into that. It has to go to the courts first, it is ordered to go to the courts on the 15th, I think, of the month, and then it is supposed to come to me for the 1st, but it never does. It is usually the 15th of the following month.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Some provinces do have that system in place. We are not one of them.
MS. CURRIE: No. Well, is there a way to look into doing that maybe?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will make record of that recommendation for sure. It will be something that obviously we will be considering when we put this report together.
MS. CURRIE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to come and share your thoughts with us. It is very helpful.
[Ms. Maureen MacDonald resumed the Chair.]
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. I think our next presenter just left the room, John Yipp.
MR. O'NEIL: Mr. Yipp has asked if I would sit with him while he does his presentation.
MR. JOHN YIPP: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is John Yipp. I am 25 years of age and I am totally visually impaired. I am a single disabled individual. I come here this evening to present a case to the committee that is making recommendations of possible changes to Community Services. The first thing that I would like to say is that I am 25 years of age. I am totally visually impaired. I am getting an income of $714 per month, as well as monies from the In-Home Support Program that is allocated to me to pay a companion, that is a sum of $339 per month.
One of the problems I do have with that, and that I would like to see one thing changed is that every month for that $339, I have to go and fill out an income statement and due to my visual impairment, I have to keep on going to the offices of Community Services to, in fact, make sure that the money will be there for me for the next month to come. One of the things that I would like to see changed in the system is that that be no more, that I will not have to attend the offices of Community Services on a regular basis to fill out the income statement, because my income isn't going to change. If I have been getting $714 for the past three months, for example, I think I am going to be getting $714 for the past three months, for example, I think I am going to be getting $714 for the next two years, at least, as well.
One of the things I would like to see changed, I don't like the fact that I have to go to Halifax to find adequate living accommodations. There are no living accommodations for me in this area that are safe, with the exception of one, that is the City Lodge on Kings Road. That allows me some comfort, some security, some safety, my telephone calls are screened at the City Lodge, that type of thing. This is my third time going back to that same facility. I have tried other apartments in the area. If the City Lodge burns down, or I have to leave it for some reason, I don't have another place to go. I can't live at home, it just doesn't work, because of my disabilities. My dad is 61 years of age, and he can't be my primary caregiver all the time. He has to look after his own needs first and foremost.
Another thing I would like to make clear to the people here this evening, the committee and the audience, for transportation costs, for example, if I want transportation for something, they say, well, you have in-home support, use that money. I tried to go back to
school last year, and I applied for VRDP funding in this province at my local Community Services office. They informed me, well, can your companion drive you to school. We are only going to allot you $100 a month. Then I saw people at the same particular program that I was going to get $200 a month and their families were driving them to school on a daily basis. I couldn't believe that.
Me, a single individual, disabled and all. Okay? I can't believe that. That I have to sacrifice my money, my companion money to go to school to upgrade myself. I didn't finish that program last year, because I got sick, thanks to the stresses of Community Services. As well, another issue, I have a guide dog. I am the first person in Cape Breton to receive a guide dog from the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization in Manotick, Ontario. Community Services, I came back from Ontario, I asked them for help to care for Waldo. Their answer was, well, is the CNIB providing the dog, can you go somewhere else for funding? I informed them that no, I couldn't. To this day, I still can't get proper funding for my guide dog, Waldo.
If it wasn't for my dear friend, Mr. O'Neil, who you heard from this evening, on the left, I can attest to what he is saying, because I, on occasion, have asked him to come into Community Services with me, and my worker informed me, well, Mr. O'Neil doesn't know what he is talking about, you can come in by yourself. I have even asked for a change of worker on different occasions, and my worker has informed me that it is not possible. The department has even had the gall to tell me that I can't have certain services now, because I have a guide dog, or because you have a guide dog, we want to take your companion away. I don't like that. I am sorry. I don't feel that is viable.
As well, I can appreciate the people coming in here this evening and saying how telephones are a necessity. I can attest to that, because I am disabled. Thank goodness my telephone is included in my rent, because if it wasn't, I wouldn't have one. Or I would have to pay more money to get one, and because I have had to do that in the past, I now have my name in a collection agency, and the collection agencies don't care. If you can't pay it, you lose your credit rating. That has happened to me on a variety of occasions.
The big issue, the big thing that I would like recommended to Community Services is that if they are going to offer programs in Halifax, I think that the same programs in Halifax should be offered here, right in Cape Breton. I don't feel that I should have to leave this Island to participate in a program. One program that I got benefit out of that I couldn't go to, because my in-home support services were going to be cut, was the Homes for Independent Living program in Halifax. Now, most of you MLAs should know what that is, because you are from that area.
Mr. MacEwan, if I could see you after I make my presentation, to possibly look at the possibility of setting up a program of that nature in this area. I know there are all kinds of people that would benefit from a program similar to HIL. There are lots of vacant properties.
Why doesn't somebody at Community Services get the ball rolling to get a program like HIL initiated, because I think it would be of great benefit as well.
Another problem that I had with Community Services as a disabled individual is getting repaid for reimbursed costs. It is to my understanding that the policy states, anything that you pay for, you should be reimbursed for. I have had to fight for necessities for my guide dog, food, vet costs, transportation to get there, even phone calls when I have needed help with my guide dog. I have to pay for those out of my own pocket. There is no organization here in this area that provides assistance for guide dog users. I have to call all the way up to Ontario. Community Services doesn't care.
With that, I thank you very much. I am really sorry I vented here tonight, but I think it is damn well time that somebody listened.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Okay, maybe we will start with Mr. Downe. Do you have any questions?
MR. DOWNE: No. I don't have any questions, other than, you have brought a number of issues forward that I think should be looked at. I am not familiar with the program, the dog program you are referring to, other than the program through CNIB. But I was very taken by your presentation, and I think some of the points you made are very valid, and should be looked at. Thank you.
MR. YIPP: In answer to your question. When you say you are not familiar with the guide dog program, just out of curiosity, what does the CNIB offer for guide dog users in this area? If they offer something, please tell me, and announce it in front of all these people here this evening, because I don't know of any.
MR. DOWNE: I don't know if they offer any program here other than meeting with the individuals in Halifax that had the program. I am not familiar with any here.
MR. YIPP: No. There is no program. Yes, I have had Orientation and Mobility Services. Not to be sassy, but if you are going to make statements, I would appreciate it if you would be able to back them up.
MR. DOWNE: I guess my question was in regard to where you actually were a recipient of a seeing-eye dog through another program, and I think you said Ontario, if I heard . . .
MR. YIPP: Yes, Manotick, Ontario, the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind Organization.
MR. DOWNE: I wasn't familiar with that, I was just saying that I would be interested to know more about that program.
MR. YIPP: Okay. Basically what they do, they train guide dogs for blind and visually impaired people across Canada. I am sorry I got a little on the defensive, but I thought maybe there was a program that CNIB had offered . . .
MR. DOWNE: No. Other than the fact that I only met people with CNIB that actually had dogs in Halifax, that they were talking about their program or their dog and I didn't know where the program came from. That is all.
MR. YIPP: There are two or three different ones: Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, Canine Vision, in Oakville; and the Seeing Eye in New Jersey; and several other schools.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: I do apologize for stepping out, but I did not catch the individual's name. John Yipp. Mr. Yipp, do you have a seeing-eye dog now?
MR. YIPP: Yes, I have at present.
MR. PYE: Can I ask you if in fact, did you have to purchase that seeing-eye dog yourself, or was it a donation through an organization?
MR. YIPP: It is a donation through the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind by which the individual pays $1.00 just to make it legal. It is $1.00 for $30,000; you can't get an investment cheaper than that.
MR. PYE: So you pay $1.00 and they provide you with a seeing-eye dog?
MR. YIPP: You pay $1.00 and they provide you with a guide dog, is what they are called now, as well as equipment and weekly after-care visits immediately after you return home from your training.
MR. PYE: I have to tell you, Mr. Yipp, this is the first time that this has been brought to my attention, with respect to seeing-eye dogs and Community Services' funding. I do liken this though to a technical aid program, which in fact it is, because without the seeing-eye dog you cannot get around. Much the same as a disabled person in a wheelchair who cannot get around, as well. I am wondering if in fact you have looked at other programs within the Community Services Department to see if in fact there are programs in which you can tap into? Can you tell me if you have checked all the programs available?
MR. YIPP: Yes. For example, last year, Cape Bretoners in this room may be remember, two disabled individuals had to handcuff themselves to the doors of the office of Community Services, March 1997 - myself and an individual who is hearing impaired had to - because of the fact that we were getting the run-around from Community Services. We actually handcuffed ourselves to the doors of Community Services because we weren't able to access services. The paper article read: Handcuffs used to gain attention. Both Cape Bretoners in this room may remember that.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Yipp. We will certainly consider that, or I will consider that as a recommendation. No question.
MR. YIPP: When you state that you will consider it as a recommendation, what do you mean?
MR. PYE: I mean that as many of the recommendations that are brought forward here, that in fact there will be a program where funding needs for seeing-eye dogs will be available through Community Services. I can only put that forward as a recommendation, you know.
MR. YIPP: Oh, I think it should at least be addressed. I feel good that I addressed it this evening.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: Mr. Yipp, you mentioned that there were programs available in Halifax that aren't available here. Could you just give me a couple of examples, so I can kind of focus in on that?
MR. YIPP: Yes. One of the programs that is available in Halifax and is not available here is called the Homes for Independent Living program. That is a program funded by the Department of Community Services where you actually live in the facility and you learn, over an 18 month period, such skills as budgeting skills, cooking skills, how to keep your apartment neat and tidy. That is one program that I would like to see in this area. I don't feel that I should have to move away from my family just to access those simple services.
One of the main reasons I did not go to the HIL program in Halifax is because they wanted to take my in-home support cheque away. Because I suffer from a variety of psychiatric and emotional disabilities as well as physical disabilities, that aspect of my life is very important.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: I am not going to ask you any questions, John, but I will certainly do anything I can to try to help. Paul MacEwan.
MR. YIPP: Thank you. I am a Liberal at heart. (Laughter)
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Certainly, you have raised a lot of concerns, such as filling out your income statements every month, and that sort of thing, and transportation costs to schools. There is no question in my mind that these things should be looked at. Thank you for your presentation.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: I don't have any questions, but thank you for your presentation.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: I just want to make reference to HIL, Homes for Independent Living. There is one located on Oxford Street in the City of Halifax, where four disabled individuals occupy the home as independent living people. Thank you.
MR. YIPP: Mr. Pye, I want to commend you for identifying that to the group. I think it is good. It gives a plug for HIL.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr. Yipp, for your presentation.
MR. YIPP: No problem.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is from Community Involvement of the Disabled, Michael Stapleton.
MR. MICHAEL STAPLETON: Good evening. My name is Michael Stapleton. I am with Community Involvement of the Disabled. I am on their board of directors. I am also on the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities in Halifax, I am on their board. I came here just to listen on some of the issues that were discussed and I can enlighten some more of the issues on disabilities and everything as for a lot of the target areas of housing, employment, education and transportation. I just got the phone call earlier this afternoon about this and we had nothing formal to prepare. So I was just asked to come down and see what it was about.
Some of the comments that I can mention, and as has been stressed by other people that have some of the same concerns, my wife and I live actually just reasonably next door. From our apartment we can see Cambridge Suites, the Delta, and we're sort of right in between. Just three years ago I moved from New Glasgow. I was involved with a disabled organization there - Central Highland Association of the Disabled. I was on their board and did the same thing with LEO. Some of the concerns that we have personally, my wife is a wheelchair user. She has spina bifida. I have cerebral palsy myself. We both have gone through high school and managed to get through the system without any assistance. I wear a leg brace and have to have that paid for by Community Services. My wife, in turn, if she needed a new wheelchair, she would have to go through Community Services.
An example would be last year my wife needed a cushion for her chair because one side of her seat has been taken, due to a bout of gangrene in 1982 she lost a great deal of a section of her seat and without this particular cushion, in order to sit straight, she needs a gel filled cushion. Last year the cushion exploded. It came apart and the filling inside let go. We were one of the lucky ones. We have a good caseworker that works with us. We tell them exactly what we need for our case and usually they have been accommodating very well to us. One of the issues was my wife had to wait six weeks for this one cushion to come and the only thing that she could do was transfer from the bed to the wheelchair long enough to get to change bags, or whatever, and then to transfer to the couch, some place soft to sit. So it got to the point, and it was rather humorous that she would have to go from the couch to her chair, to the bed, and everything. We made it so we were six weeks doing this. It was comical to see it.
Other issues, like in employment, both of us, due to being on social assistance, between the two of us we only get $658 a month through the system. If there are any increases, or whatever, like we told them there, our rent, regional housing lets us know when our rent is increased and everything. So we have to, in turn, tell Community Services. There was one occurrence when I moved down, there was a rate increase as soon as I moved down and our budgets became combined and I lost the shelter allowance. When we went to report it to our caseworker that there was a raise of $58 added on to what she was already paying in rent and everything, then we told them and there was really no compensation and all they paid for at the end of it was just the one month. We gave them the first receipt and they had since lost it and everything and so on.
Some of the other things, I can tell you a story about transportation. Just to go visit my parents in New Glasgow, we book the Acadian Lines bus in the wintertime, when I feel it is too bad or unsafe for me and my wife to travel by car, we book the bus and we'll book it two weeks in advance and usually the company here in Sydney is pretty obliging. They called us one time and said that the bus wasn't leaving until 11:00 o'clock and another time somebody had called her and said that the bus would be leaving at 7:00 o'clock. We were there at 7:00 o'clock waiting to go and then they tell us that the bus is not leaving until 11:00 o'clock. Then we get to our destination and then on the way back you will get a bus driver
that says are you going to sit in the front of the bus or the back of the bus when the wheelchair lift is in the back of the bus. So then the tie-downs are at the back of the bus. So the person in a wheelchair has to sit at the back of the bus. My wife finds it rather humorous when she gets a bus driver like the last trip that we made. We were coming back home and it was pouring rain. The bus driver says to her, are you getting on the bus. My wife said no, I am just sitting here in the rain waiting for - and usually when we travel I have to pack, for the two of us, a large hockey bag, and one time I just kind of sat it in front of her and I said, well, she gets past it.
Some of the other issues that were brought up, like housing and everything, are a lot of the issues that disabled are having to deal with and the lack of money. I know from our experience $658 a month doesn't really go a long way. My wife and I budget and we try to make it meet and we're lucky that we have a good caseworker that works with us. We tell her what we need and then with our doctor. Just recently my wife had an allergic reaction to latex gloves. When we were changing the dressings on her seat and everything, she broke down and when she found out that she couldn't use the gloves, I have been changing the dressings all along. Since she found out that she couldn't use it, she has Epipens now that if she does have an allergic reaction, and a lot of the time even the medications in the hospital she's allergic to them. So it is getting down to trial and error. We're going to find out that she's allergic to this and not allergic to that. It is getting downright scary.
A lot of the services that have been mentioned that should be changed and sort of like the uniformity of the whole system is an important issue. If we can work together, Community Services, the disabled community and all of the other programs that are being provided, if you can hear the address from those people that are accessing all of the services that are being provided and the need for those services are there, you know, the people aren't spending the money frivolously. They have to use common sense and a lot of the time the support from the parents is important. Without the support from the family some programs have to be there to help out. My wife speaks a little better than I do. She's not here tonight.
But a lot of the things that I have seen in the number of years, like between the two of us, we can't take jobs because her ostomy supply is around $900 because she has both urine bags and the pelvic system. For her to go out and get gainful employment she has to have an employer that's going to give her medical benefits to pay for all of those products and everything that she needs on a daily basis and a lot of the other stuff like that. A lot of the good that Community Services have been doing is grateful to everybody that needed it but the systems have to be made better. Some caseworkers' sensitivity have to be improved because some of the stories that you have been hearing have happened. They have made clients feel rather bad about having to go to them.
I had one caseworker when I first had to go on it, when I couldn't get another job because of my disability, the caseworker says to me, where the hell have you been. My father was in the Army. We had some supports there while my father was in the Army. They paid for a lot of my operations, special boots that I would have needed, leg brace and everything. That I am all grateful for because where I am today is a benefit from those people that have offered to help me and make my life a little bit better and a little bit more comfortable.
Some of the housing issues that were brought up, I have seen some low income housing apartments and everything that were major substandard, that needed to be addressed. I seen one apartment that had the front door on it that my wife could have drove her wheelchair through. I am not saying that this was shoddy quality or whatever but the standards that we have in the building code say that buildings have to be put together at a certain level to maintain a comfortable means of living and the safety, if the place is not safe for the person to live in, or is a fire hazard, that is going to put them in more danger than their being anywhere else. It is not feasible for them to live in some of the places, the high rents and some of the other issues that I am going to try and address there.
As for employment, I am on a disabled partnership committee program that we are trying to find jobs for persons with disabilities, inform employers of the benefits of hiring a person with a disability, what the person would be able to do as ability to working for an employer, and if the employer has the insight and is willing to take a chance on a person with a disability and accommodate them in their workplace, is a benefit because the employer has an extra person that's on their staff and will work hard. A lot of persons that are disabled, if we had the opportunity to have a job, we would be there every day working in that job. Sometimes we may not get to work because of our health reasons, or whatever, but we do make an effort to at least try.
The committees that I sit on and the board of directors, since I am not working full-time, I get the benefit of being on those committees on a volunteer basis. I, hopefully, try to meet with people like yourself and express the needs and everything and sort of hope that there's an avenue where we could work together on a common ground, make it all better for us, change all of these problems, make major improvements in the system and work together on it.
If you know what we need, like some of them John was mentioning and the other lady there mentioned, and if we work with the caseworker and told them exactly what we needed and then had the money, we would be able to afford to get some of the extras. For example, the phone is a necessity, especially for medical emergencies. If my wife did take an allergic reaction and we had to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital, or something happened and I wasn't home and she had to get a brother to take her, you know, the phone would be vital, the key to her getting over the allergic reaction and not having any worse problems. I am trying to make sure that I have got everything covered. I think that's pretty well it.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Ms. Atwell, do you have any questions?
MS. ATWELL: No questions, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: No questions but it seems that here again is sensitivity that needs to be shown and special circumstances should be taken into consideration and, again, the higher ceiling perhaps be made available.
MR. STAPLETON: I know the budget that we live on right now is, you know, we try to make ends meet, we're doing pretty good but some months it is cutting pretty close. Sometimes we don't have any money at the end of the month and sometimes we might, $5.00 or whatever. We're trying to do the best we can with what we're getting. We could use a raise. I know there was a cost of living raise increase every six months and then, I forget what year it was stopped. Thank you for your time and I will just continue listening to the other.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Stapleton, there are one or two more people who have questions, if you don't mind, if that's okay.
MR. STAPLETON: Yes. I am just trying to save time.
MADAM CHAIR: We won't take much of your time. We will do it quick. Mr. MacEwan, quickly.
MR. MACEWAN: I don't think he anticipates any question from me. I know this couple well. My wife and I and several members of our family were at their wedding at Trinity United Church which took place, what, four years ago now?
MR. STAPLETON: Three.
MR. MACEWAN: Three, it seems like yesterday.
MR. STAPLETON: I have to keep track of my anniversary date. If I forget my anniversary, my wife won't let me live it down.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes. Well, you say hi to Vera for me. I know you're going home just next door.
MR. STAPLETON: Yes. Well, we're safe. We're in a secure building.
MR. MACEWAN: Your safe and warm, yes, and you are doing a magnificent job. God bless you.
MR. STAPLETON: We plan to stay married and try to make an example and show that two people with disabilities can live together as a couple and a family sort of thing and sort of give you a positive outlook so when you guys go to the big meetings in Halifax, when issues come up, you can reflect on some of the progress that people like my wife and I are maybe making a good example and making you guys proud.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. I have one. You made some reference early on in your presentation to a receipt being lost or whatever and throughout the presentations tonight we've heard on one or two occasions about the issue of overpayments, when people are overpaid and it is recovered. I am wondering have you ever come across an experience of people being underpaid by the department? I mean if overpayments occur, then certainly underpayments must occur as well. In any big organization those kinds of things can cut both ways.
Do you know of any situations where there have been underpayments and what happens then, what is the process? The department, are they as quick to respond in terms of making payments where they have underpaid as they are when they have overpaid?
MR. STAPLETON: It is sort of what - sometimes I see that the cheque would be late. Like, they would say that there are three days for banking that the person has to cash the cheque and they usually try to send it out. At one time, they used to send it out right at the first of the month. You had to wait until the first of the month to get the cheque and then everybody had to get to the bank on the first to cash it.
I have heard of cheques being late but, fortunately, we haven't had a problem. With that, the only problem was with the receipt and promptly taking it to them. One would get lost and have to give them another receipt. They only give you - my wife, for example, thought that when she told the caseworker at the time, because it was within a change - she was changing from one caseworker to another caseworker - and I think it got lost in between at that time. I have heard of that.
We try to keep on top of it. Just recently, now, my wife has to get a medical alert bracelet. She has told the caseworker that it is going to cost $53 and we are going to see if we can get that paid through that. So in the case of an emergency where she can't speak for herself or if I'm not there and they gave her cloxacillin, she is allergic to that and the effects from that would be serious. We're trying to do that and we are seeing how that goes. I have to drop off the information to our caseworker, probably tomorrow.
I've heard, from working in the past, like, in New Glasgow, there had been cases with the shelter allowance, where the biggest issue was when money was cut. People had to rely on the shelter allowance then they decided that they were going to cut that. I got a letter after - my cheque wasn't cut when it came out but a friend of mine was - I got a letter saying that my shelter allowance would be reinstated but mine was never cut.
When I worked in New Glasgow the issues were brought up and we stressed the importance of the shelter allowance not being cut. They reinstated it which was a good thing.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Stapleton, I certainly thank you for sharing your story with us. I also commend both you and your wife for your perseverance and dedication.
Mr. Stapleton, I, too, am from Pictou County so I am extremely interested in the comparison of accessing the system. We are talking about the system here and the services that were available to you in Pictou County compared to the services here and the quality of the delivery of that service. I would be very interested to hear your comments on that.
MR. STAPLETON: Well, when I lived in Westville, my caseworkers were excellent to me. I would go in and tell them if I needed anything and they would try their best. One time my caseworker had me on a work placement with Service Master, with the Aberdeen Mall. He got me the job under one of the programs and asked me if I was interested in working it. I said, yes, I will try it. I said, I will tell you what I can do, what I can't do. I said, I hopefully will try to let the employer know if I have any trouble. That worked pretty well. The only thing I didn't like was chasing after the $45 that I was allotted for the work that I was doing. I always seemed to have to either catch the accountant when she was in the mall, or something, and say, when am I getting paid because everybody would get paid on a Monday and I wouldn't see my $45 until Friday. The frustration of that was . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: As far as the service goes, though, between the two areas were very similar. You are quite satisfied with the service that you are getting and so on?
MR. STAPLETON: So far, yes. The caseworkers . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Unfortunately, that caseworker is retired now, unfortunately for me because he was a good caseworker, I know that. A fine individual as well.
MR. STAPLETON: Yes.
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, look, thank you very much.
MR. STAPLETON: Okay.
MR. DEWOLFE: Good luck.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. Michael, you mentioned a program called the Disabled Persons Partnership Program.
MR. STAPLETON: Yes.
MR. PYE: Is that a program that is offered through Community Services?
MR. STAPLETON: No. It was started by HRD. There are 16 other partnership committees across the province that are through HRD and Canada Employment. When it used to be CECs, it was established a number of years ago and I was asked to - when they first set it up in New Glasgow - join them and express views and everything. We were successful in getting work placement with the cooperation of employers and the local agencies such as Community Services and some of the other - Summer Street Industries in the New Glasgow area.
We have been working hard here in Sydney trying to establish the same thing and offer the assistance to the employers to hopefully give them the encouragement to hire a person with a disability. A lot of us that are on disability, despite having the disability, have some experience, can work and even if it is part-time or whatever, can contribute a little bit.
If it got to the stage where the person could successfully get gainful employment and then sort of skid off of the Community Service, that is fine and good but there are a lot of them that, even if it is just a part-time job with the assistance of their cheque and everything, gives them that little bit of extra money that they otherwise wouldn't have or would have to do without services, whatever, that they would vitally need during a month. It has been successful. We are hoping to see more improvements.
MR. PYE: I just wanted to ask you a final question. Your community involvement of the disabled organization, did you have the opportunity to meet a disabled person by the name of Jamie Cowie?
MR. STAPLETON: Yes.
MR. PYE: Very good. Did you express the very same concerns to her that you have expressed to us?
MR. STAPLETON: Yes, I did. I got the opportunity to meet with her when she came into town and she met with our organization. There was an opportunity where she wanted to wheel to the CID office on Hillview Avenue and I accompanied her on the trip. We left the Esplanade here at the desk. She was staying at the Delta. We left the Delta and walked to Hillview Avenue to where the CID office is, one afternoon.
We got halfway through it and it started raining but we walked the whole way. I told her, I said, I can usually walk it in a half hour. It took us a little bit more time than that because she was in her wheelchair and we just took our time. We made it by the time she had a 2:00 p.m. meeting. We made it there at 1:55 p.m. We timed it pretty well.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, just for the board's information and for those who don't know, Jamie Cowie is a disabled person who is sponsored by the City of Windsor, along with a number of corporations, to do research on the everyday barriers faced by disabled persons in Canada.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
MR. STAPLETON: She also would like to see, possibly, a scholarship fund for a disabled woman that is planning on taking law, maybe, a scholarship fund to pay for the person's tuition if they were taking up law.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: One point you made about the positive story. I guess, listening to the conversations today and tonight, maybe there is something we should be doing as a body to recommend the fact that not necessarily - I don't know if we can get support for everybody here that there are some positive stories out there but there are some things that are happening within the system that are encouraging.
MR. STAPLETON: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: The general perception out there in the general public's view is a different perception about what we are talking about tonight.
MR. STAPLETON: Right.
MR. DOWNE: Maybe we should be spending a little time educating the general public about needs, responsibilities and some of the positive initiatives that are actually happening, as well as the fact that we have these programs and the purposes behind them.
MR. STAPLETON: One other comment. Nova Scotia's population is 900,000 people, roughly. Almost 200,000 of that is persons with disabilities of any form; 22.6 per cent, last count, I think, was that, I heard, when I asked for the breakdown from the percentages. It is around 196,000-plus people in Nova Scotia. Some of the statistics that we found when I lived in New Glasgow and worked with Central Highland Association of the Disabled, we found out that one in seven, within their lifetime, will become disabled in some form or another from accident, illness or whatever.
Those figures play an important part, that anything can happen within anybody's lifetime. Like, say, even with the unfortunate results of the Flight 111 that just went down, if there had been any survivors from that plane crash, a percentage of them probably would have been disabled for the rest of their lives from the accident and would have to go through rehabilitation, and need a lot of the services that are being provided, and probably would need more extensive, or whatever, throughout.
I'm just hoping, like, in universality that you make it more accessible for everybody and that everybody's disability will be considered and everything and you can sort of make the wage go down or up, depending on the person's needs. If you know what the person's personal needs are, then you can base it there and they can live somewhat comfortable and not have to live sort of within a tight restraint that we have to live in now. That is all I have to say.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Thank you for your presentation.
MR. STAPLETON: Okay, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: We have another presenter, Liz Dakai.
MS. ELIZABETH DAKAI: Thank you very much for letting me speak. I know I wasn't on the agenda and it's getting late so this is the last thing you need.
My name is Elizabeth Dakai. I have a 22 year old son who is mentally and physically handicapped. Because of having my son, I have been involved with many groups over the years on different boards. I am presently the Chairperson for the Provincial Family Supports Committee for the Nova Scotia Association of Community Living. I am not here in that capacity tonight. I am here as a parent and advocate for other families. Fortunately, I am not on social assistance, but I have had dealings with social assistance over the years because of my son needing help in various ways, and helping other families get help.
I have nothing in any particular order here. I was taking notes all evening, different things people were saying brought things to mind, and I just jotted things down. One thing that caught my attention was when John Yipp stated that he was getting $339 a month for a caregiver, which is not a lot of money. What I find, a lot of the workers in departments do not realize is that money is going back in the community, creating jobs. That money they give people for caregivers does create jobs. So it is not going into a bank account, and someone is not getting rich. Which is the same for all social assistance recipients. That money is used to buy clothing, food, everything, just to live from day to day. It is not sitting somewhere, it is going into the economy.
We mentioned a few times here tonight, people, about when they get jobs, and then they have to go back on family benefits or social assistance, it takes a long time to get back on track. I think it was 1986, or somewhere around there, when the government became really involved with computers, they talked about the bring forward system, which was established at that time. What it did was, when you came off social assistance or whatever, got a job, they could just put it in the computer, when that job was finished, if it is was a term job, or you could not work any more, they just punched in the computer, and you are automatically back in the system. It looks like it is not happening yet, that is 12 years ago.
In Sydney here, the Community Services Department for Adults, I don't know if it is still in effect, but they were getting funding from the Department of Health, apparently they had no monies left. Do you know if that is still the situation or not?
MADAM CHAIR: It is something that we can look into.
MS. DAKAI: The reason I am saying that is because I had gone there one time, spoke to the person in charge of the adult services, and went through the story about my son's needs. He had just finished school, and went through all this. When I finished, he told me, well, we don't have any more money here to help you, you have to go through the Department of Health. Any other normal person would have said thank you very much and left, and went home to call the Department of Health and went through the chain of command to the top person. But I said, well, who would I contact there? He didn't answer me. I said, who would it be? Then he said, that is me. Why didn't he just tell me that at first.
In the Halifax area there is an employment centre for the disabled, mentally and/or physically handicapped people. There is nothing in this area. John for one would benefit from that. Getting back to the Adult Services Centre, the two gentlemen that spoke from the Schizophrenia Association, I wonder if they had gone there and looked for funding, for respite care for in-home support workers. That is where they would go to get that money.
As far as workers not knowing exactly what is available for people on social assistance, I believe those people when they tell you that different workers don't know different things, they tell you different things, but myself and other families have come into contact with workers and the same worker will tell three or four different people, three or four different stories, three or four different scenarios. It is the same person doing it. It is a joke among parents that these workers take a course in how to lie when they first get the job, or how to act stupid, I don't know. I don't know this or I don't know that or that is not available. Then you find out it is. It is very frustrating.
Another thing that is frustrating is when I did have to go to Community Services for things for my son, I was treated, I know how those people feel, because I was treated like I was on social assistance and the way they treat those people, and it was very frustrating. A lot of those people on social assistance, the majority of them don't want to be there. Their
self-esteem is down on the floor as it is, and they go in there and they are treated like they are down on the floor. It is just not right.
Another issue, for the mentally challenged people, or mentally disabled, if they do manage to find a job part time or even full time, it is usually minimum wage, and a lot of them are on medication. A big issue is that, even if they make the same amount as they do with family benefits or social assistance, they lose that medical card. That is a big issue. If there was some way that they could - I know there are some cases in the Halifax area where they have been able to - arrange for them to keep their card, but I don't think they do in this area, I haven't heard of any, but that would be a big help because sometimes their medication is a few hundred dollars a month.
Another issue, a friend of mine, he is a paraplegic due to an accident but he has had a lot of initiative. He has educated himself and he is working but, because he is not on social assistance, he gets absolutely no help with any medical needs he has. He doesn't get any help with the ramp, with the wheelchair, nothing. Those are costs over and above what the normal person has; yet, he could quit his job tomorrow, get social assistance, and they would probably build him a new house with everything in it, completely accessible.
There should be something in place for people who want to be self-sufficient, something that the government can help them with to keep them self-sufficient, like a ramp. It is not a one-time expense, but a once every 5 to 10 year expense, not every month. It helps their self-esteem and makes them want to keep working.
I probably missed a dozen things, but those are the main issues. I'm like John. I came up here to vent things. (Laughter)
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Okay, maybe we will start here. Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: Thank you very much, Ms. Dakai. One of the comments that you made is a problem which I have run into, and it is this business of drug eligibility once you hit a certain income. I had one of the people that I dealt with - when I first assumed this position - a person who got a $30 raise and a benefit, and lost $500 worth of drug benefits. We eventually got it straightened out, but that is one of the flaws in the system, and I appreciate you reinforcing that fact.
MS. DAKAI: Yes.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you. You have brought to our attention a lot of valid concerns and we appreciate that. Thank you.
MS. DAKAI: Yes. Could I just say something right now? A few of the things I mentioned, like, for example, the worker giving four different stories to four different people. I have dealt with different agencies, like school board, helping parents with integration and things for the children, and these are all true things.
I have had the chairman of the school board here look around and laugh and say, where is the hidden camera? This is a joke. It's unbelievable what some parents are being told and what they are putting up with. What is frustrating for me is I know different. A lot of these parents, they believe these people, they believe these workers, and they leave with their head down thinking, no.
On another point, many times parents are told, that you are getting the most money in the province to help your child, and do you know that it could be cut off next month, so you be careful with that. Like they are threatened.
I was threatened by a worker in that way: like, you could be cut off; you're very lucky; no one else gets this, which was all bull. I went to the supervisor for the area and complained. It never happened with me again with that person, but she is still doing it to others, and that is not right.
MR. DEWOLFE: Just in my short six months as an MLA, I have noticed a variance in similar cases, awards and so on. It is frustrating and that is why we ask for reviews of cases. Very often, a review of a case will shed some new light on the situation and will provide a resolve. It is frustrating and it is frustrating for us, too.
MS. DAKAI: The workers have to remember, if it wasn't for children like mine and for people who are on social assistance, they wouldn't have a job, so they should be nice to these people and treat them with respect.
MR. DEWOLFE: That's right, I agree, thank you.
MR. PYE: I, once again, thank you. I think that there is a common theme here in that the number of people that have come to speak before this Community Services Committee this evening, obviously many of them must have different caseworkers. Many of them have indicated the harassment and the belittlement of individuals by their particular caseworkers. I think we have a significant issue here that really requires attention. That significant issue is, in fact, a comprehensive educational program with respect to policies and programs offered by Community Services, and obviously some etiquette with respect to dealing with people.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: I thought you did an excellent job of kind of summing up everybody's general comments. All the scribes and recorders, we really didn't need you. She did an excellent job of performing that tonight. (Laughter) I concur with my colleague's comments. I think that is really a concern.
I keep going back - not everybody in that service delivery system is bad. I think there are a lot of . . .
MS. DAKAI: No, that's right, I agree.
MR. DOWNE: We lose sight of that and I wouldn't want the emphasis coming out of here that everybody in the committee - because there are a lot of dedicated, qualified people that care a lot about the job. There should be the balanced approach.
You know, there is a common thread being said here and that concerns me. I think it started off with the whole issue of self-esteem, that people are going through some very hard issues to; even walk through that door is a major issue for a lot of people. I think that sensitivity and educational programs is an important one.
I want to thank you for your own tenacity of sitting here during this exercise and coming up with all the information.
MS. DAKAI: Thank you for letting me speak.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you, Madam Chairperson. I just wanted to say, as well, you know, it has been a common thread this evening. I guess if I was to ask you to throw out one recommendation for this committee, what would it be?
MS. DAKAI: Oh. I think the one thing that I would recommend is that Community Services let the people know what is available. That brings to mind another thing I was told. How did you find out about this and don't you tell anyone else or we will take it from you. That is the truth. (Laughter)
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I don't have any comments, thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you very much for your presentation.
MS. DAKAI: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, Ms. Dakai's late mother was a great friend of mine and her father taught me what little I know about playing the zither. (Laughter) They would both be very proud of you here this evening. Thanks very much.
MR. DOWNE: Is there anybody else that should have been here that he doesn't know? (Laughter)
MADAM CHAIR: I would like to thank you for your presentation. I think for myself, it did tie up a lot of the things we have been hearing tonight in a really nice way. It summarized in many ways a number of the themes.
One of the things that, certainly, I felt for a long time - I'm a social worker before I'm a politician, that is what I used to be, at any rate - the system is way too complex and complicated for everyone. It is very complicated for people who come for service; it is very complicated for people who try to provide the service and have to explain it. The more complexity you have in your system the more difficult it is for workers to be able to sort of get a grip on it and explain it, all of the little nuances, why some people get this and other people don't.
I think that we have a challenge here to try to look at ways of making this system a more user friendly system, one that works for people who receive services, one that will work for people who deliver services and one that will hopefully work for the political people who have to oversee and design good public policy that works for everyone.
Your presentation was very timely at the end of the evening to tie things together. Thank you very much.
MS. DAKAI: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: I don't think there is anyone else but if there is, perhaps you would identify yourself at this point.
If there is no one else, then thank you all very much.
[The committee adjourned at 11:10 p.m.]