Disability benefits cut by bus-pass expense

This is taken from Victoria Times Columnist newspaper

Lindsay Kines / Times Colonist

August 30, 2016 06:00 AM


On Thursday, the B.C. government will start charging disability-benefit clients $52 a month for a bus pass that used to
cost $45 a year.

Sheenagh Morrison will get her first raise in nearly a decade Thursday and the B.C. government will take most of it back the same day.

After nine years of living on $906 a month, the 35-year-old Victoria woman will see her monthly disability cheque increase by $77.

The same day, however, the B.C. government will start charging her $52 a month for a bus pass that used to cost $45 a year.

Once the government finishes adding and subtracting, Morrison, who has a developmental disability, will be left with an extra $25 a month — her first increase since 2007.

“I’m very upset that they’re doing that,” she said. “They could be giving us a raise that we haven’t had in 10 years and kept the bus pass the way it was at $45 a year — instead of deducting money.”

Morrison isn’t alone. For months, people with disabilities and their advocates have criticized the “mean-spirited” changes first announced in the February budget.

They accuse government of “clawing back” bus passes from the disabled instead of raising rates across the board.

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell continues to defend the policy.

In a recent statement, she said the previous system was unfair because 45,000 people with disabilities were living on $906 a month with no additional transportation support. Meanwhile, 55,000 people received their monthly assistance plus a $52 bus pass or a $66-a-month transportation allowance.

Now, she says, everyone will get the same amount and can “choose” to buy a bus pass or keep their full $77-a-month increase. The $45 annual bus pass fee has been waived.

“These changes create fairness,” Stilwell said.

“While I understand that people hoped to see a larger increase in rates, these changes ensure everyone receiving disability assistance will benefit, and build on the progressive changes the ministry has made to disability assistance in the past year.”

But Morrison says she has no real choice in the matter, despite the government’s claim to the contrary.

“The bus is my only way I get around town,” she said. “It’s not a choice. I need it to see my friends and family in the community. I need it to get to swim practices; I swim for Special Olympics.”

Once she pays for the pass, she will be left with $931 to pay for food and rent. Fortunately, she has a job at Thrifty Foods that allows her to eke out a living, she said.

A single person with a disability can earn up to $9,600 a year before the government begins deducting money from their monthly assistance cheque.

“So because I have a job, I have that little bit of extra income for everything I need like food and rent,” she said.

But she’s still frustrated that after a nine-year freeze, the government decided to give her just $25 more a month to cover rising costs. “Have they ever lived off $906 a month?” she said.

Advocates for people with disabilities intend to protest the changes at rallies across B.C. Thursday.


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