Share Prosperity to Help Disabled (The Star Phoenix)

Share prosperity to help disabled
By Judy Hannah, The StarPhoenix February 4, 2011

Following is the viewpoint of Hannah, chair of the Disability Income Support Coalition in Saskatoon.

Imagine relying on a food bank to be able to eat. Imagine being unable to afford a bus ride across the city. Imagine having to choose between paying the rent and buying your medication.

For many people living with disabilities in Saskatchewan, these are not imaginary scenarios. These are very real situations they face daily.

Saskatchewan is experiencing economic growth, but many people continue to live in poverty. Currently, a single person with a disability receives, on average, $784 per month from social assistance, while a childless couple receives $1,161. A single disabled parent of one or two children receives just $950 monthly.

Not surprisingly, the majority of this money is put toward life’s necessities, with shelter coming first, and food and transportation taking what’s left. Having a disability can create additional costs as well, with medication often a major expense.

People with disabilities who cannot work must be supported to live a life with dignity. The Disability Income Support Coalition (DISC), composed of individuals with disabilities and 38 disability advocacy organizations, is seeking greater enrolment in a respectful income program for people with disabilities in Saskatchewan.

DISC believes it is time for the provincial government to increase the benefit levels for individuals with disabilities, and that it’s time for individuals with disabilities to share in Saskatchewan’s prosperity.

We are pleased that some progress has been made. In 2009, the province announced a new income support program for people with disabilities, called Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID). We are pleased to work with the government on the development of SAID, but the program was launched with a limited number of people enrolled and no increase in benefit rates.

While SAID is a step in the right direction, it must be expanded to improve the lives of more people.

In December, the Social Services Ministry announced an increase to earnings exemptions for people with disabilities who receive benefits through SAID or through the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan. Minister June Draude deserves credit for this step forward, which will benefit about 540 people.

Still, there is much left to do. The sooner the benefit levels are substantially increased for all individuals with disabilities, the better.

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