Friday, May 27, 2011

CLBC funding per-client chopped every year since its creation

The cuts to supports for people with "developmental disabilities" - what we once called the mentally handicapped - are taking a terrible toll. And worse times are ahead.
According to Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation set up to provide services, the amount of funding per client has fallen every year since it was created six years ago.
In 2006/7, the first full year of operation, funding provided an average $51,154 per client. This year, funding will be $45,306. By 2013, according to the government projections, it will be cut to $41,225 per client.
If you factor in inflation, by 2013 the funding available for each client will be 30 per cent less than it was in 2006. (There is a small amount of additional money for a personalized supports initiative; it doesn't change the reality of the annual cuts.)
The result is damaging. People who have lived in group homes for years, happily and in a family-like setting, are being forced out as homes are closed to save money.
People who once had full lives - supported in jobs and social activities - are now spending all day alone. The supports that involved them in the community, helped them keep jobs and gave them rich lives have been pulled away.
Waiting lists for services are growing and, in many cases, services are just denied. No money, says CLBC.
CLBC says several factors, all predictable, are pushing up demand for services.
The corporation takes responsibility for supports when people turn 19. CLBC says parents, after seeing their children assisted through the school years, expect quality services to continue.
Too often, they don't. Teens who have been thriving with effective supports face disaster when they become adults.
Like Jonathan Martin of Burnaby. He has Down syndrome and autism. He's been supported as a youth and CLBC's own report says he needs continued support and access to day programs next month when he leaves high school. "There is a grave concern that Jonathan's independence and acquired skill would quickly decline after he finishes school and if day program is not available," the agency's report says, according to the Burnaby NewsLeader. "Constant supervision is required for huge safety concerns."
But CLBC says it has no money. Jonathan will go on a wait list, with no real chance of getting support.
At the other end of the age spectrum, CLBC reports that people with developmental disabilities are living longer and needing more support as they age.
At the same time, many aging family caregivers, usually parents, can no longer provide as much support and are turning to CLBC.
They are finding the support isn't there.
That is particularly cruel. All parents worry about their children. But most enter old age knowing that their sons and daughters are launched.
Imagine the anguish in fearing that your death or incapacity will leave your developmentally disabled adult child at risk of exploitation or neglect. Knowing that the efforts you made to help ensure a safe, productive, satisfying life could end in tragedy.
The B.C. Association for Community Living has supported CLBC since its creation and continues to applaud the efforts to provide individualized supports.
But executive director Faith Bodnar says underfunding has reached a critical point. "Insufficient funding to CLBC has meant reacting to crisis only and the real danger of relegating people to lives of isolation and subsistence as their supports and services are cut," she wrote this month. "For people with developmental disabilities and their families it has created uncertainty, desperation, vulnerability and real suffering as they experience cuts to services or are placed on waitlists without hope."
There are pragmatic reasons for providing these services.
But this is also a moral issue. These are vulnerable people who, with help, can live rich, satisfying lives. They have the right to that opportunity. We have the collective ability to give them the chance.
But the government, on our behalf, has decided that would cost too much.
Footnote: CLBC notes that part of the pressure from services comes from the province's "five great goals," set by the government in 2005. The third goal called for B.C. to "build the best system of supports fpr persons with disabilities, those with special needs, children at risk and seniors." It turns out families believed the government was serious.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Desperate, expensive gamble to save HST

Governments aren’t supposed to make tax policy — or prepare budgets — like this.
The Liberals’ last-ditch attempt to save the HST is a dramatic flip-flop on tax principles they once said were essential for the province’s future.
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon says that if voters decide to stick with the HST in this summer’s referendum, the government promises to cut the rate from 12 per cent to 11 per cent on July 1, 2012. There would be another cut to 10 per cent on July 1, 2014, assuming the Liberals are still in office.
By 2014, Falcon claimed, the tax burden on individuals and families would be less than it was under the provincial sales tax,
But wait, as they say on late-night infomercials, there’s more. If voters stick with the HST, the government will send out one-time payments to help cover some of the increased tax burden. Families with children under 18 will get $175 per child; low-income seniors would also get $175. (Using taxpayers’ money to send cheques to the province’s richest families hardly seems sound public policy.)
Cutting the HST rate by one percentage point, according to Falcon, would cost the government about $850 million a year. So by 2014, the government would be taking in about $1.7 billion less in revenue than it had planned.
No worries, says Falcon. The government would still balance the budget by 2013/14 and manage despite the lost revenue.
If the HST is approved, he said, the government would raise the corporate income tax rate from 10 per cent to 12 per cent, reversing past cuts. That would bring in about $400 million a year.
And the government would cancel the planned elimination of the small business tax, adding about $250 million a year to government revenues.
That still means government revenue would fall by $1.7 billion a year when the HST rate reductions were in place.
The other tax changes would bring in about $650 million, leaving a billion-dollar gap.
Falcon’s claim the budget can still be balanced on schedule rests on the fact that the full impact of the HST cuts won’t hit until after the target date. Even so, the government’s forecast allowance and contingency funds — the cushions against unexpected revenue losses or spending needs, like a bad forest fire season — are now committed. There is no margin for unforseen events And the budget already called for spending cuts in most ministries this year, with a freeze in place for the following two years. (Health being a notable exception.)
Given the Liberals’ track record of HST misinformation, Falcon should present a clear budget plan showing how the revenue shortfalls will be handled before people vote in the referendum.
The Liberals’ credibility overall is hurt by the latest lurch from tax policies they once said were critical to the province’s future.
Take the corporate tax increase. When NDP leader Adrian Dix advocated the same tax change, Falcon said corporate tax increases would threaten the fragile economic recovery. Education Minister George Abbott said the proposal represented “the leading edge of 18th-century socialism in this province.”
Or the HST rate cut. When Falcon proposed an HST rate reduction during his leadership campaign, Christy Clark was critical, saying the government couldn’t afford to give up billions in revenue. Anyway, she said, changing the rate before the referendum would just look like the Liberals were trying to buy people’s support for the tax with their own money.
Credibility is a big referendum problem. The Liberals have provided misinformation on the HST every step of the way, underestimating the costs to families, inflating the economic benefits and claiming it was revenue-neutral. All the claims were contradicted by an expert panel the government appointed.
And now they are offering a new tax policy and making new claims with only weeks to go before the referendum, leaving no time to commission a new independent analysis to replace the now largely useless one.
Trust us, Clark says. This time we’ve got it right.
Some voters will. Some will look at the costs of getting out of the HST and decide it’s best to stick with the tax.
But many will likely be seeking much more information before buying the government’s claims this time.
Footnote: The New Democrats seized on past comments from Clark in question period Wednesday. During the leadership campaign, she rejected Falcon’s call for a rate cut. “Cutting the HST by one point is more than $800 million out of the budget this year and every year after, $1.6 billion for a two-point cut, and we need to ask ourselves where we’re going to get that money, because we’re either going to have a $1.6-billion bigger deficit, or we’re going to get $1.6 billion fewer heart operations, special needs teachers, school facilities, hospital emergency rooms.”