SAID expansion offers hope – An Article of Interest

SAID expansion offers hope

Published on Oct 31, 2011 in the StarPhoenix
By Jordon Cooper

The vast majority of the men who I see at the shelter where I work come and go as their situation in life changes.

Some decide that it will be their home, and become like family. The shelter is not an assisted living facility, but we do have longerterm rooms and provide a level of care that matches what these men need.

A combination of aging and deteriorating health means that eventually some have to move from our facility into a care home. It’s a hard day for both them and the staff. Losing one’s independence is a traumatic thing to deal with, no matter where you are at in life.

The Saskatchewan government announced back in 2009 a program called the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability. The SAID program did three things: It moved people from the Saskatchewan Assistance Program, it streamlined the process of getting disability benefits and it paid out benefits on a green cheque.

A new cheque, but no new money. It didn’t feel like much progress was made. When it was first announced, I thought it was more about manipulating Social Services statistics than anything else.

When Premier Brad Wall on Oct. 17 made the SAID program the Saskatchewan Party’s largest election promise, I was surprised. He expanded the program to include the estimated 7,000 persons with significant and ongoing disabilities who are living independently, from the current 3,000 people who are assessed as needing Level 2 care and living in residential care homes.

There is new money for both groups. For those who live in a care facility and have their needs met by the facility, there will be more money for personal needs. For those who live independently, funding will eventually increase to a maximum of $350 a month if you are single, and $400 for couples.

The money does two things. For those living independently, it allows them to maintain their freedom and frees up beds and resources for those who need the help. It also gives them a measure of freedom and dignity that is hard to achieve at current Social Services rates.

But the program isn’t perfect. While there is $4 million for autism, even Wall admits there is more work to be done to realize his goal of making Saskatchewan the best place to live in Canada for people with disabilities. The funding is a good start, but the list of what needs to be done is long.

There are too few mental health group homes, it can be difficult to access services needed by those living independently, and there is the issue of concurrent disorders. To address them all will take time.

The process to create SAID started in 2006, and it’s been five years to the announcement date. While the timeline can be discouraging, the emergence of a strategy to tackle complex social issues is encouraging.

While expanding SAID is a good policy, it was a yawner as a campaign promise. As of Wednesday, a Youtube video of the announcement had a total of eight views. Even the NDP liked the announcement.

Dwain Lingenfelter told the Regina Leader-post: “I think anything we can do to help families who have a member with disabilities is a good thing. We’ll want to look at it and compare the system we have in place to what has been announced and what we’re proposing.”

Beyond an awkward reference to it by Wall during the leaders’ debate, the promise has been barely been mentioned since the announcement.

While the announcement may have been boring politics, Wall’s statement that he wants Saskatchewan to be the best place for people with disabilities gives some hope that his government is ready to tackle some of the social issues we face as a province head on, rather than just manage them. The promised $33.3 million in the fourth year of the program isn’t a lot of money, but it provides a significant upgrade in quality of life for more than 10,000 Saskatchewan residents with disabilities.

The policy will also provide a framework for the Wall government to deal with other social ills, whose symptoms are expressed in such things as higher food bank usage and an increasing number of homeless in our cities.

As SAID has shown, targeting spending at a defined problem can make a big difference in people’s lives without having to spend a lot of money. Let’s hope the government uses the same approach in tackling other social issues.

The list is long, but it looks like Wall will have another four years to work on it.

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