The Saskatchewan opposition joined a Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) client Thursday to again call on the provincial government to change the social assistance program and increase its benefit rates.
Frank Francoeur is a father of two who transitioned to SIS from the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) last August,
Francouer, who says he went on social assistance after going through a divorce and also suffers from mental health problems, told reporters he has less money to cover basic costs of living at the end of the month on SIS than he did on SAP.
He adds he recently received a notice of eviction at his Regina Housing Authority (RHA) home and says both SIS and RHA practices are to blame.
The Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, which oversees RHA, typically subsidizes housing for its clients by charging them 30 per cent of their household income.
For clients on welfare, however, this method is not used if that client is receiving more money for shelter through a social assistance program such as SIS or the former SAP program.
In the case of SIS, the Saskatchewan Housing Authority also takes into account “household costs” when setting rent levels.
In the case of Francoeur, who receives a $975 benefit through SIS, this means his rent increased from $761 to $945 when he transitioned from SAP to SIS.
He says there’s a difference, though, in that SIS clients are expected to pay for utilities out of their shelter benefit whereas SAP provided a specific $40 utilities benefit in addition to the shelter benefit. On top of that, power bills were paid for directly by social services.
While he has $30 left for utilities in his shelter benefit, Francoeur says the power bills for his family can be over $120, forcing him to dip into his $285 basic SIS benefit to cover the cost.
All things considered, he says that while on SAP he would have $315 a month to spend on other living costs after rent and utilities were paid, he sometimes has less than $200 a month to cover basic living costs on SIS.
He said that, especially when inflation is considered, he often finds himself scraping by.
“I immediately make my rent and electricity payment,” he said.
“My diet is spaghetti and rice. There’s trips to the food bank. Clothing, everything else has to die.”
While getting by on SIS has been a struggle, Francoeur said his eviction came because he was never told his rent had to increase by nearly $200 when he transitioned from SAP to SIS.
He said that was revealed to him during an annual rent renewal process in March, and that he was told he’d have to pay the unpaid difference. He said he made an initial payment of $400 on that balance and that he asked if a payment arrangement could be arranged, but that RHA declined.
He said that his rent payment for that month was automatically applied towards those arrears, and that as a result he then defaulted on his next rent payment.
Social Services Critic Meara Conway says stories like Francoeur’s are evidence that SIS not only needs higher benefit rates, but that the program needs a distinct utilities benefit on top of the shelter and basic benefits.
“It’s mind-boggling. It’s just cruel,” she said.
“We’re at a point where the rates are just so low that we’re ripping apart the social fabric, like people cannot live on this.”
Social Services Minister Lori Carr was not at the legislature Thursday, but former minister Donna Harpauer fielded reporter questions on the matter.
She defended the SIS program and its rates but declined to comment specifically on Francoeur’s situation.
She said, though, that officials from the government, which oversees the Regina Housing Authority, will meet with Francoeur to discuss his case.
“There’s always clients, I know from being the minister in the past, that have a change in circumstances, and may not understand the change to the program that come forward and that’s why the officials will be meeting with them.”