December 10, 2015 5:21 pm
Updated: December 11, 2015 11:36 am

NDP MLA demands end of maternity/paternity leave clawbacks for parents on disability

WATCH: Parents who receive disability benefits say their lives are being destroyed by Victoria's clawbacks of maternity and paternity benefits.

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The B.C. NDP spokesperson for social development is raising the alarm about maternity and paternity clawbacks from B.C. parents receiving disability assistance.

MLA Michelle Mungall says the clawbacks are causing a great deal of distress to the parents who are already struggling to make ends meet.

An online petition on Mungall’s website asks the Liberal government to put an end to these clawbacks.

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Mungall says parents with disabilities collect their maternal/paternal leave benefits and have to declare them to the provincial government through the ministry of social development. She says the ministry then deducts that amount from the monthly disability check, dollar for dollar.

New mother Jessica Alford says the clawbacks are not only putting her family in financial jeopardy, but have also caused her to see a councillor for depression.

“We just cut anything that we absolutely did not need, including food for ourselves, just to ensure our children have three meals a day,” she says.

“You work so hard,” adds Alford. “And you can’t provide for your children. And those provisions that you do try to make are taken away from you.”

Alford says she and her husband, who is on disability, were allowed to make $800 per month between the two of them before she went on maternity leave. She was making $500 a month while on maternity leave, which was deducted from her husband’s disability check.

“That $500 is my grocery budget for a month. So our budget for our bills became our grocery budget,” she adds.

Mungall says the amount of money that the government takes back amounts to less than $500,000, impacting about 150 families every year. “This is is not government’s money, it is EI money that people with disabilities have paid in to,” she says. “But this government does not recognize that they have done that simply because they have a disability and because they rely on government support for that disability.”

The issue was brought up in Question Period last spring and summer in the legislature.

Mungall says she spoke to the minister responsible, who told her maternity/paternity benefits were not considered earned income.

But Mungall disagrees.

“They paid into EI,” says Mungall. “It was earned income and it needs to be recognized as such.”

She hopes the government will address the issue in the upcoming spring budget.

The Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Michelle Stilwell said in an email statement to Global News regarding the issue:

“I understand how challenging it is for low income families who are struggling to get by. But it is also important to note that British Columbia is home to some of the most comprehensive supports for low-income individuals and their families in all of Canada, including housing subsidies, MSP subsidies, free dental and optical care for children, and discounted bus passes.

Our extensive social safety net is in place to provide temporary, short-term support to help people find meaningful work – and to be there for the long term for those who truly need it. Federal Employment Insurance (EI) is an insurance program that workers and employers pay into, and people are required to access these benefits before relying on provincial assistance – this is fundamental to welfare programs across Canada. If other means of support fall below income and disability assistance rates, the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation will top up individuals or families to ensure their total monthly income is at least equal to ministry rates.

When families on assistance have a child, they have immediate access to additional financial supports through an increase in shelter and support rates and federal and provincial tax credits. For a single parent with their first child, these additional benefits add up to about $860 per month on top of their regular assistance. If they have a second child they would receive another increase.

The ministry has also made a number of very significant policy changes over the last year to help make life better for low-income families. For people on disability assistance we increased earning exemptions from $500 to $800 a month and became the first province in Canada to annualize those earnings exemptions up to $9,600 a year. For families where one spouse has a disability, they can now earn up to $12,000 a year without it affecting their assistance.

We also doubled the monthly income exemption for families with children on income assistance to $400 a month, and increased it from $300 to $500 a month for families who have a child with a disability to make the transition to employment easier.

We’ve fully exempted child support payments for those on income and disability assistance, which provides approximately 3,200 families with an additional $32 million over the next three years. And through our Single Parent Employment Initiative, we are investing $24.5 million over five years to help single parents get the training and support they need to move off income assistance and find a good job.

While we are always looking at ways to improve our policies, income and disability assistance is a taxpayer funded program of last resort and is there for those who do not have access to other sources of income such as EI.”

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