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B.C. under fire for cutting COVID-19 financial help for seniors, people with disabilities

Click to play video 'B.C. cabinet minister defends decision to cut $300 in monthly COVID-19 income and disability assistance' B.C. cabinet minister defends decision to cut $300 in monthly COVID-19 income and disability assistance
WATCH: During question period in the B.C. legislature on Monday, Social Development Minister Nicholas Simons responds to BC Liberal MLA Dan Davies about the government slashing the monthly benefit in half, starting in January – Dec 15, 2020

The B.C. government is defending its decision to slash the monthly COVID-19 financial assistance for seniors, people with disabilities and people on lower incomes.

Last week, the province announced it would cut the funding in half as part of new legislation.

Available since April, the $300 supplement has gone to more than 200,000 people who were not eligible for the emergency federal support and who did not already receive income or disability assistance.

Now, the boost will be cut to $150 in January, February and March, and eliminated entirely in April.

Read more: Details released on how to apply for B.C.’s COVID-19 recovery benefit

The issue has dominated question period at the legislature recently.

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“People receiving (disability assistance) need support in these trying times,” recipient Cynthia Breden said in a letter read out by BC Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond.

“This sends a very strong message to all of us about your lack of understanding of people’s needs.”

Bond described the policy shift as a “clawback” and said the government is making it harder for people during the middle of a pandemic.

Read more: COVID-19 disability benefit, even if approved, would ‘miss all kinds of people’

“Instead of promising, maybe, somewhere down the road … somebody will look at it, the premier has the opportunity to stand up today, rethink that decision and give assurance to the most vulnerable in British Columbia that he’s actually paying attention to their concerns,” she said on Monday.

The BC NDP has a much stronger record than the BC Liberals on increasing disability support. In 2017, Horgan’s government increased assistance for the first time in more than five years.

In response, Social Development Minister Nicholas Simons outlined the differences between his government’s $1,000 COVID-19 recovery benefit and its $1,000 workers’ benefit, saying the recovery boost is open to everyone under a certain income threshold.

The one-time, tax-free recovery benefit was one of the NDP’s major election promises this fall. It will be based on 2019 income levels and is worth up to $1,000 for families and up to $500 for single people.

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“So people on income assistance and disability assistance will be eligible and can apply for this recovery benefit,” Simons said. “And in addition, starting in January, there is (the) supplement of $150 for three months.”

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For example, a single parent receiving income or disability assistance would currently receive $900 over three months.

Should the person successfully apply for the recovery benefit, they would receive $1,450 over January, February and March.

However, people who receive disability assistance would still be behind those who have received other support, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, also known as the CERB.

A single person earns $760 a month on income assistance or $1,183 a month on disability in B.C., which is far short of the $2,000 monthly benefit given to those on the CERB.

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