Clients of Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) say they’re struggling to make ends meet with the benefits they receive through the program, which according to the province has a goal of offering clients “the dignity of greater choice of services and participation in their community.”
“I’ve heard that because of the cost of living rising, even people on SAID are going to the food bank,” said Sean Hargreaves, a SAID recipient of nine years who lives in Delisle.
“If you want to have any kind of life instead of living off ramen noodles and stuff from the food bank, I just don’t think the rates are high enough.”
SAID benefits vary depending on a number of factors, including where the recipient lives, the number of people and dependents in their household and the specific limitations associated with their disability.
Hargreaves says that after paying for rent and utilities with SAID and CPP payments, which the latter he says he was forced to register for when applying to SAID, he’s left with less than $300 per month for all other expenses. The CPP benefits are deducted from the SAID benefits, he adds.
Hargreaves said he encountered other problems when applying for SAID, which he receives for mental health issues, including severe anxiety and depression.
“(The government’s) attitude towards (my mental health) was the same with a lot of people still in the general public — if people can’t see a disability, they don’t believe there’s a disability there.”
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He said his application process took about six months and involved paying for doctor’s notes and getting consultations with a counsellor and a psychologist.
“It was very tough. It depended which worker I was seeing, which team. Some were very sympathetic and were willing to guide you through and there were some who would look at you and have their doubts. And unfortunately, they have your benefits in their hands, so you can’t help but feel a little bit judged. Hopefully by now though that’s a little less of a problem.”
Lynnett Boris, who has spina bifida, is also on SAID and lives in Saskatoon. She’s unable to supplement her benefits with work due to her condition.
She said that between SAID and long-term disability benefits, she gets around $1,200 per month.
After rent and utilities are paid, Boris said she has little left to make life more enjoyable.
“It is extremely hard to make ends meet on that amount of money,” she said.
“It’s not enjoyable at all. It kind of takes the fun and enjoyment out of life.”
Brenda Edel is a founding member of Barrier Free Saskatchewan (BFSK), which is advocating for strong accessibility legislation.
She said SAID rates are a common issue heard at BFSK.
“The rates have always been one of the most difficult things. If somebody works, they can only claim so much and then that money gets clawed back,” Edel said.
Individuals on SAID can earn up to $6,000 before that income is deducted from benefits.
“And the rates aren’t going up with the costs of inflation. When you’re living on minimum wage, and below the poverty line, every little bit counts.”
Other SAID recipients were contacted for interviews but declined comment due to fears about losing their benefits.
The Saskatchewan NDP, meanwhile, says it intends to raise the issue in the legislature this spring.
“We have a petition we’ll be launching this spring session. It has hundreds of signatures, and it points out that SAID has not seen an increase in over seven years,” said NDP MLA and social services critic Meara Conway.
Conway said that when accounting for inflation, recipients have seen a 20 per cent decrease in the value of their benefits since 2012.
“I’m hearing some really heartbreaking stories of difficulty funding housing, meeting basic needs, paying for food,” Conway said.
“Living with a disability is more expensive than living as an able-bodied person and so folks are really struggling. We’re hearing a lot from family members who are needing to basically subsidize their loved ones.”
Conway said single adults with disabilities living alone tend to be struggling the most, according to her consultations and research.
“Single people on SAID who live alone are in the deepest poverty in that subsection.”
The NDP’s petition calls for an immediate increase in SAID rates, to index rates to inflation moving forward and to “provide targeted relief to those in deepest poverty, such as single individuals paying market rent.”
The petition also calls on the government to “halt discriminatory practices and align policies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“We’ve been reached out to by people who are getting amounts clawed back in ways that have been found to be discriminatory in other provinces like in Manitoba,” Conway said.
“The Saskatchewan government continues to force people on SAID to apply for early CPP even though that’s been found by the Manitoba Court of Appeal to be discriminatory.”
Conway reiterated, though, that her biggest concern is the rates.
“People need to get enough to make ends meet, and right now they simply do not,” she said.
“Would a minister in this building be willing to take a 20 per cent cut to their pay? No. I think SAID is the single most significant thing that this government has done. Unfortunately, since that time we’ve seen a sharp turn to catering to special interests like the Buffalo Party, and we’ve seen less and less of a Saskatchewan Party listening to the concerns of real people, working people and people struggling to make ends meet.”
In an emailed statement, a Ministry of Social Services spokesperson told Global News, “SAID benefits vary depending on a client’s specific situation and needs, and has different payment tiers for living income, disability income and shelter with no set maximum monthly benefit.”
“SAID also offers clients annual earned income exemptions, which allows clients who work to earn more money.
“In 2022-23, we increased SAID funding by $16.7 million to ensure that all people in Saskatchewan who qualify for the program are supported,” the statement continues.
“In the Maytree Report on ‘Welfare in Canada, 2021,’ Saskatchewan ranked among the top four Canadian provinces in providing income assistance benefits for single people with disabilities.”
The government of Manitoba announced a new disability income support program last December. It allows recipients to earn up to $12,000 before reducing benefits. In Saskatchewan, as noted in the image above, the exemption tops out at $6,000 for an individual.