February 29 2019
BC Budget: Making Life Better for Families in BC to Prevent Poverty
(Victoria) In terms of investments in the first-ever poverty reduction strategy in the 2019 B.C. Budget, the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit will significantly impact families in poverty in British Columbia but there needs to be far more for individuals in poverty in this budget, according to the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC).
Having long called for this measure along with its members, the BCPRC celebrates the expansion of the provincial child benefit, with the increase of provision from 6 years old to 18 years old. This means an increase of the maximum lifetime benefit for a family with two children from $7,920 to $48,000. The benefit targets deep poverty with the threshold for the maximum benefit set at $25,000. This is far below the poverty line of $40,000 for a family of four.
“The B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit is a powerful new tool to combat child poverty, which will help the government meet their legislated target of reducing child poverty by 50% in 5 years,” says Viveca Ellis, Single Mothers’ Alliance of B.C. “Unfortunately, the full power of this tool is eroded by setting the threshold for the maximum benefit at $25,000, which means many single mothers and other families will see their benefit reduced while they are still below the poverty line.”
There are many other measures aimed at families, children and youth: family-based caregivers including foster parents will have an increase of $179 per month; support payments received by extended family will also increase to keep families together; families with children and youth with special needs will get more support, including respite relief for parents; and children and youth with mental health issues will have more access to services.
Another significant move is the elimination of interest on student loans effective immediately. This provides huge relief to students graduating from post-secondary education with significant debt. The full MSP elimination will also take effect early next year.
“This is a family budget building on last year’s significant and continued investments in child care, and we’re pleased to see B.C. finally get in line with other provinces and providing a child benefit that extends up to age 18,” says Trish Garner, Community Organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. “However, the increase to welfare and disability rates of only $50 per month and the addition of only 200 modular houses is a drop in the ocean in tackling deep poverty for individuals. This is a critical gap given that one in three singles live in poverty in B.C.”
The basic income assistance rate will now be $760 per month, which is meant to cover housing, food, transportation and other basic needs. This remains below 50% of the poverty line, which reflects the actual cost of living. The disability rate will increase to $1183 plus the existing transportation allowance of $52 per month. Basic welfare continues to have no transportation support, despite the requirement to look for employment.
These increases are an investment of $44 million over three years. In comparison, the support for electric vehicles in direct subsidies and infrastructure is a cost of $100 million over three years.
“Given the significant surpluses budgeted of $274 million, $287 million and then $585 million over the next three years, as well as the forecast allowances and contingency funds, we have the fiscal room to provide a much bigger increase to welfare and disability assistance rates. There is no reason to keep people struggling to survive at these shockingly low rates,” says Trish Garner, BCPRC.
The BCPRC and its members have been advocating for a shift to a more supportive social assistance system so the Coalition welcomes significant steps, including: changing the definition of spouse in line with other programs to ensure fairness in the level of support for couples; helping clients access identification; increasing the assets threshold; allowing people to keep their car; extending the shelter rate to those paying room and board to a family member; and simplifying the re-application process to decrease the risk in people taking up short-term employment opportunities.
The BCPRC looks forward to seeing more significant measures and the long-term vision in the full poverty reduction strategy to be released shortly.
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For more information, contact:
Trish Garner, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC)
firstname.lastname@example.org / 604-417-8885
Viveca Ellis, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC + SMABC)
Vivecawork@gmail.com / 604-366-1008
Christine Mettler, Regional Coordinator, Kelowna
email@example.com / 1-778-821-0766