Benefits Low, Say Recipients (Regina Leader-Post)

Benefits low, say recipients
By Tim Switzer, Leader-Post January 21, 2011

Bill Lawson would love to be able to go the grocery store to pick up a steak.

He’d love to have a little more room in his Regina apartment for guests or have a car to drive where he and his wife Linda need to go.

But while Bill and Linda are living with disabilities and receive social assistance, such luxuries are simply out of the question.

The couple live in a small apartment in a Regina Housing Authority building (which Bill calls a “godsend”) and uses the food bank, but still has trouble making ends meet from month to month between costs for rent, bills, household items and medication.

And while grateful for the support they do receive, Bill said there needs to be more for people who are unable to work.

“We definitely have all the programs in place, but we need more cash,” said Lawson, who lives with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and a series of acquired brain injuries. “It’s barbaric the amount of cash we have. They have these wonderful programs in place and they feed us peanuts.

“Everything I have in this house, was given to us. Sure we have a computer, but that was given to us.”

Any extra money the couple could get would go toward improving their diet.

Linda also has schizophrenia. A stroke in 1990 largely restricts the use of her left side. Neither is able to work regularly to get off of social assistance.

According to figures provided by the Saskatchewan Disability Income Support Coalition (DISC), a childless couple both living with disabilities receive around $1,160 per month in social assistance. Of that, only $140 (each receives a $50 disability allowance and a $20 travel allowance) is above what those without disabilities receive.

Judy Hannah, chair of DISC, said that $50 per month doesn’t always cover a disabled person’s additional needs, particularly having to pay for some medications.

She’d like to see benefit rates increased and the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program be rolled out further to supplement those with disabilities who do not live in care facilities.

“For a lot of people getting an increased benefit rate would make a huge difference because they could eat better, got out a little bit more and it would solve a lot of the problems,” said Hannah.

Jeff Redekop, executive director of the income assistance and disabilities service division in the Ministry of Social Services noted SAID will soon be available to more people in Saskatchewan, but it is difficult to say when.

The ministry is developing an assessment process to determine who qualifies for the program and, once they do, what the cost of support would be.

Redekop could not speak to potential increases to social assistance rates, but noted recent changes that see single people with disabilities able to earn $100 more per month without assistance being clawed back ($125 for childless couples) and a continuing review of shelter rates.

Jana Friel is one of the people who have benefited from the change on the clawbacks. While living with an intellectual disability, she lives off of $700 per month from social assistance and her paycheque from one shift per week at McDonald’s.

Previously, when she would end up receiving three paycheques in a month, part of the money would be clawed back and she would end up receiving less money than in month where she got only two paycheques.

“I can pay bills and all that stuff a lot easier now,” said Friel.

Even so, Friel would like to see rates increased so she doesn’t have to rely on her parents to help out financially while she’s trying to live on her own.

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