The head of a social services agency in the B.C. Interior is encouraging the federal government to avoid penalizing marginalized people for receiving emergency aid they may not have been eligible for amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit, also know as CERB, was introduced in late March to help Canadians out of work because of COVID-19.
Approximately eight million people so far have received the benefit , which offers $2,000 per month for up to four months. More than $44 billion has been distributed.
But Bob Hughes, the executive director of Ask Wellness in Kamloops, said some clients living in social housing, who are already receiving provincial income supplements, filed for CERB and are receiving it even though they don’t qualify.
Hughes fears marginalized people will be pushed into deeper poverty if they are targeted by the Trudeau Liberals proposed penalties for fraudulent CERB claims.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday proposed legislation would enact punishments for those who knowingly and wrongfully claimed the benefit — not those who simply made mistakes in good faith.
“Starting to punish some of the people we work with because of their circumstances that allowed them to apply for this money and receive it I think would be an ill-fated approach and the outcome will likely be pushing people deeper into poverty,” Hughes said.
South Okanagan-West Kootenay NDP MP Richard Cannings agreed the penalties would hurt vulnerable citizens.
“I think this is just a real blunt instrument to really go after people who really need this support,” he told Global News.
“That’s why I think we need a more reasoned approach, a more empathetic approach to this, if there are people who are seriously scamming the system, we have ways of going after them through other legal measures,” Cannings said.
Meanwhile, Hughes, who oversees 600 publicly funded beds in Kamloops, Merritt and Penticton, said the sudden “windfall” is refueling B.C.’s opioid crisis.
“What happens with people whose addictions are so severe and their ability to manage their day-to-day affairs has been so compromised by addictions, mental health and development disability, that it is just fueling further despair and trauma on our streets,” he said.
Hughes added that while CERB is helping vulnerable people such as sex trade workers leave dangerous lifestyles, it’s also having a negative effect.
“We’ve seen in our buildings where people are receiving this amount of money and its translating into an abundance of drugs and alcohol, not just illicit substances like opioids and crack cocaine or meth, but just increased alcohol consumption and with the windfall of funding like this there is tensions that happen between people.”
Hughes said staff working in social housing complexes have been instructed not to assist clients with CERB applications, given the potentially fraudulent nature of doing so.
– With files from Amanda Connolly