B.C. Liberals calling on province to stagger welfare cheques to avoid ‘Welfare Wednesday’

WATCH: A private member's bill aims to stagger when welfare cheques are distributed across B.C. But as Richard Zussman reports, making the change might not be so easy.

It’s a day first responders across the province worry about: welfare cheque day. B.C. Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite is hoping to change that.

Currently, the provincial government distributes welfare cheques on the third or fourth Wednesday of the month. First responders have seen a significant increase in overdose calls and overdose deaths on those days and the days immediately after.

WATCH (aired March 1, 2018): Victoria police chief calls for staggered welfare cheques

Victoria police chief calls for staggered welfare cheques
Victoria police chief calls for staggered welfare cheques

“In the days following the monthly distribution of income assistance cheques, first responders and medical services are overloaded,” Thornthwaite said. “We need concrete action in order to turn the tide on the opioid crisis.”

During the week that income assistance payments are distributed, the average number of overdose deaths increases by 36.8 per cent compared to other weeks, according to the B.C. Liberals. Drug use goes up on cheque days because drug users have greater access to money, they said said.

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Based on Thornthwaite’s research, a cheque week in 2018 saw 40 overdose calls in Vancouver on “Welfare Wednesday,” 47 the following day and 45 on the Friday of that week.

READ MORE: April’s ‘Welfare Wednesday’ single worst day for recorded overdose calls in B.C. history

The B.C. Centre for Substance Use is currently looking into the issue and is set to report back to the government in a few months.

“We are aware there are challenges for first responders on the days following cheque day,” Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said.

“We will see what [the B.C. Centre for Substance Use] have to say and we will take action if it means people making people safer.”

The Victoria Police Department has been advocating for spreading out the cheque distribution.

Jonathan Gormick from the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services says the spikes vary, but sometimes there is a doubling of calls in the days around and including “Welfare Wednesdays.”

READ MORE: Province not considering changing social assistance cheque distribution for now

“It’s a huge issue for us and partner services as well to see that unique spike in calls once a month,” Gormick said. “How does any agency deal with such an acute spike in need that only happens once a month?”

OurPlace Society in British Columbia provides supports and meals to many people on welfare in Victoria. The organization is aware of the pressure on first responders associated with getting a welfare cheque, but wants to ensure the change will not create unintended consequences.

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“For the people we serve it won’t necessarily be any better for them,” director of communications for Our Place Society Grant McKenzie said.

“A lot of time they know when the cheque is coming in and that allows them to plan their month.”

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