Saskatchewan launches new income support program

Sask. government introduces ‘simpler’ social assistance
WATCH: Two income assistance programs will be phased out in favour of a new program the province hopes will have better results. David Baxter has the details.

The Saskatchewan government is launching a new income support program for people receiving income assistance.

Officials said the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program will be transparent and client-friendly, and help transition clients to greater independence and a better quality of life.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan ombudsman says an income assistance rule is not fair

“We need to do more than just believe our clients will have a better future. It’s time for us to work with them and make this happen,” Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said.

SIS launches on July 15.

It has a monthly earned income exemption limit which will allow clients to keep more of the money they earn as they transition to the workforce, officials said, and the online application process will allow people to apply whenever they want.

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Under SIS, Merriman said clients will have “motivational interviews” with case workers. The goal is to outline what the client’s goals are and how to get them to a level where they can be self-sufficient. This is based on a similar model that has been used in Manitoba and New Brunswick.

“Sit down and ask them what are their barriers? What got them to this point that they’re on social assistance? And how can we help you get back to that place of self-sufficiency? So it has been working in other provinces for a few years,” Merriman said.

READ MORE: SAID program recipients to see more money, tax exempt income

Once the motivational interview is complete, next steps could include help finding job training, financial literacy and budgeting help, among other measures. Even with different paths, the end goal is to help people become self sufficient.

The government said people currently on the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) or the Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA) will remain in those programs until they are wound down in the summer of 2021, move to the new program, or no longer require income assistance.

SAP and TEA will stop taking new applications on July 15.

The Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program is not affected and will run alongside SIS, officials said.

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Could clients pay more?

Both the Opposition NDP and Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry’s Peter Gilmer raised concern over the fact utilities are now included as part of what the SIS’ shelter allowance is meant to cover. Previously, utilities were not meant to be covered by the shelter allowance.

“We know already that people are dipping into their personal allowance to pay their rent. I think we’ll continue to see more of that. I predict we’ll see increased pressure on community-based organizations such as the food bank,” NDP caucus chair Carla Beck said.

The benefit includes a few defined benefit categories, the basic benefit (to cover food, clothes, transportation, etc), shelter benefit (rent, mortgage, utilities, etc) and a number of other allowances for things like having children, child care, moving, and job training.

The lowest possible benefit is $860 per month for a single person with no kids living in Regina or Saskatoon.

Gilmer says these benefit levels haven’t changed in 12 years and was hoping to see increased client benefits with the new program.

“We think in many cases this is going to cause greater hardship, and what we really were hoping to see was a significant boost in these rates. We’re now calling for a $250 a month increase in all income assistance programs,” Gilmer said.

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Merriman defended the funding level, pointing out the province added $275 million since the Saskatchewan Party formed government in 2007. He said clients have told caseworkers they aren’t achieving the results that they want.

“We want to make sure our programs are focused around the results that they want. More money doesn’t necessarily always fix the problem, it’s what are the barriers to getting back to that employment,” Merriman said.