Thursday, July 23, 2009

Latest secret cuts hurt those who most need help

It seems bad public policy - even dumb and destructive - to cut supports that help people get off welfare and into jobs just as more people are being forced onto income assistance.
Or to cut efforts to improve literacy, one of Gordon Campbell's "five great goals" of 2005.
But those are among the measures the provincial government has chosen to deal with its botched budget.
The NDP released leaked documents this month that show the government knew in early June that its income assistance caseload projections were wildly inaccurate.
The budget was based on the assumption that 112,000 people would be on welfare by the next fiscal year; the documents show the caseload is now expected to "to peak at 147,000 in June 2010."
That's 24 per cent higher than the forecast, an increase that represents suffering for individuals and families and a $100-million budget overrun. (The revelation comes after the government's public affairs bureau intervened to suppress the regular monthly release of income assistance caseloads during the election campaign. The statistics - which were released during the last two campaigns - would have showed a 50 per cent jump in the number of employable people on income assistance in just six months.)
The documents also reveal the government is attempting to deal with its errors by cutting needed services.
A June 5 memo announced an immediate freeze on "direct purchase" funding for people on income assistance. That's a ministry program intended to help people on welfare find and keep work.
In areas where there is no contractor supplying employment programs to government, for example, income assistance workers have been able to approve job readiness training for clients who were capable and keen to work, but needed help.
Direct payments were also available for literacy training for people on income assistance and to cover small costs like textbooks and transportation. They were used to cover high school level upgrading courses for people whose lack of education was preventing them from finding work.
And in all cases, funding was only available if the person on welfare had demonstrated commitment, motivation and ability in the hunt for a job.
What sensible person could think these cuts make sense?
Income assistance rates are desperately low in B.C. A single person who is considered employable receives $375 a month for shelter and $235 a month for every other expense - that's less than $8 a day for food, transportation, clothes and everything else.
Which leaves no money for the basics required for job hunting. Direct payments were the solution, a small amount of money available to provide needed help in making the transition from welfare to work.
Cutting it is cruel, of course.
It's also foolish. Helping people off income assistance reduces the long-term costs substantially.
And as Campbell has noted, the longer a person is on income assistance the greater difficulty they have in escaping.
The literacy cuts show a similar short-sightedness.
Last year, the government announced funding for 16 regional literacy co-ordinators.
Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell said the co-ordinators would help make improvements urged by the auditor general. "Regions are often faced with challenges matching up people with the programs and services they need and making all the various literacy programs work together efficiently," Coell said.
Now the jobs are being cut to try to keep the deficit down.
It's an odd approach for a government that has identified literacy as a key to the province's future - and the need for economic stimulus. Firing people and weakening the literacy effort hardly accomplishes either goal.
Add in the news - revealed by Sean Holman at - that libraries across the province face funding cuts and reports that support for university and college students is being chopped, and a pattern is emerging.
The greater worry is that these cuts are just symptoms of rushed, arbitrary and ill-considered efforts to slash programs and jobs across government at great cost to people and communities now, and the province's future.
Footnote: None of these cuts are being announced publicly. The government is proceeding by stealth - a great contrast to the flood of pre-election announcements of tiny funding programs and a betrayal of commitments to "openness and accountability."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to mention cuts to dental health services for the disabled. I am a single dad with a 15 year old son. I am on disability. My son and I have not seen a dentist in 6 years as "The BC Healthy Kids" program only pays 70% of dental costs, leaving us to pay the difference, which we cannot afford. Same with my dental coverage as well. New research has determined that unhealthy teeth can cause heart disease. Wouldn't it be more cost effective to treat dental problems for a fraction of the cost of caring for a heart patient?