Harvest House Shelter in Moncton says that some people are using Canadian Emergency Response Benefit cheques to support their addiction which could have a long-term impact on the city’s most vulnerable.
Cal Maskery, executive director at Harvest House Shelter, operates a drug rehabilitation program and said the pandemic bailout money has been fueling the illicit drug market in the city for months.
“All of a sudden they got money they never had and that temptation was too strong and we lost several guys,” said Maskery.
In the last few months, four people dropped out of his rehab program and started using again after receiving CERB funds when they didn’t even qualify for it, he said.
“Once word got out to the street level that you could apply for it and there was no accountability a number of people applied for it that hadn’t worked in years,” he said.
The federal emergency financial aid was designed to help people out of work due to the pandemic.
Kirk Hollett, who is enrolled in the rehab program, says he considered applying for the benefit because he saw people getting access to easy money but decided it was not worth the risk since he has been clean for six months.
“I just knew it was going to be a trap. I could see it and the thoughts went through my head right away and I just thought ‘no that is just a death sentence for me,'” Hollett said.
Dr. Susan Crouse of the Salvus Clinic in Moncton said some of her clients on income assistance were also getting CERB checks even though they should never have qualified.
She said she worries about the impacts on the vulnerable population once the benefit runs out later this month. Some of her patients have already had a portion of their income assistance clawed back by the provincial Department of Social Development, she said.
“Some people really did make good use of their benefits and did get housing for the short time they were receiving the CERB benefit and now, of course, that is gone and they are left with housing that they really no longer can afford so they, unfortunately, lost that housing,” said Crouse.
According to the Department of Social Development, New Brunswickers who collect CERB are not able to also collect social assistance. But they can keep some benefits according to an emailed statement from Communication Officer, Abigail McCarthy.
“During the pandemic, the department determined that clients who chose to apply for CERB should still be able to keep their provincially-funded health cards and supplementary benefits, so when the federally funded CERB program ends, clients will have an easier time transitioning back to their traditional SA services.”
Meanwhile, Maskery said if some people have to pay back a portion of their CERB money, he worries that more people already living on limited means trying to overcome their addictions will feel a sense of desperation and relapse in the coming months
“I am glad the CERB money came out for those who really needed it. But, because there was no accountability with it anybody could access it and that was the danger of it,” he said.