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BC Disability Clawbacks Hurt Our Most Vulnerable

April 12, 2014
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For a moment, picture what your life would be like if you and your young child lived on just $241 dollars per month. After paying rent and car insurance, all you’d have left for groceries, communication and other must-haves would come out of this meagre amount. Making ends meet looks impossible.

Meet Rachel Goodine, a single mom to one who lives on the Lower Mainland in BC – supposedly the most progressive province concerning people with disabilities. Every month, Goodine makes choices about where to spend every penny of disability support that she receives – putting the needs of her daughter first means that she herself sometimes does not eat.

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$241 is less than the price of a pair of shoes that walk on Parliament Hill, but to Goodine that money makes all the difference. Especially since child support payments she could receive from her ex-spouse are subject to dollar-for-dollar clawbacks. Should she choose to accept those child support funds, her disability support would cut by the same amount the following month. This situation is no joke, considering that Goodine already falls some $8,000 below of the low-income cutoff level for those in her area.

Goodine is pragmatic about surviving on the system that has left her high and dry. According to The Tee (http://www.thetyee.ca/News/2014/03/27/BC-Disability-Clawbacks/), Goodine knows women who have engaged in stealing and sex work in order to make ends meet. More disheartening, however, are the women she says, “…stay in physically abusive relationships so that they don’t have to be in this position when they leave.”

For $241, two MLAs could enjoy a casual dinner at Wilfred’s next to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. This is the same amount that determines whether Goodine buys food or clothing necessities for her small family. The Tyee quotes Social Development Minister Don McRae: “Say we were to allow individuals to retain up to $300 [per month]. That would be a cost pressure on the ministry of another $10 million [per year], and then we would have to find savings within our spending.”

For comparison’s sake, the once-used site, infrastructure, and buildings of the Vancouver Winter Olympics cost the taxpayer $925 million, or enough money to give every person on disability payments an additional $300 a month for the next 92 years. The Tyee also states that “child support [clawbacks] also provide government with extra revenue.” These funds are marked as general, and surplus funds are not directed to improve the quality of life for those from whom they are garnished. Is it possible that poverty, rather than an unfortunate set of circumstances that ‘happen’ to a person is imposed on vulnerable citizens by government policy?

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There have been a number of protests and attempts at meaningful dialogue by disability and poverty advocates regarding how clawbacks impact such a vulnerable sector. Politicians cite the upcoming BC White Paper on disability services (http://engage.gov.bc.ca/disabilitywhitepaper/), due for publication in June, as the point at which they are willing to re-engage with the issue. Don’t hold your breath though – the B.C. government has indicated that “…the clawbacks are in line with the rest of the country…” according to The Tyee. Does this mean that since other provinces penalize children of parents with disabilities by subjecting the child support (ruled in 2006 to belong to the child) to clawbacks, then the BC government has license to follow suit?

While assistance to those who have a disability as well as other such social programs are considered plans of last resort, it appears that the government has forgotten that the core purpose of such programs are to protect the vulnerable.

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