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MEDIA RELEASE: BC Budget 2020: Government on the Right Track with Post-Secondary Grants but Significant Investment Needed to Meet Poverty Reduction Targets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 18th, 2020

(Victoria) In the second year of BC’s poverty reduction strategy, the BC government is on the right track as it prioritizes access to education and raising the earnings exemptions for those in income and disability assistance, but fails to make the significant investments necessary to reduce poverty in the province.

Budget 2020 brings an increase in up-front grants for post-secondary students, a boost to the earnings exemptions (effective January 2021) for those in income and disability assistance, and $50 million towards homelessness with additional funding for 200 new modular housing units.

“We are on the right track, but without more significant investment to tackle poverty in BC the cost of inaction still remains great for this province,” says Viveca Ellis, Interim Community Organizer for the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

“While we continue to sit on a large surplus, we are not prioritizing high-return public investment in BC’s poverty reduction strategy, TogetherBC, which would greatly reduce health care and criminal justice system costs in the long term,” Ellis added.

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition is pleased with a raise to the earnings exemptions for those accessing income and disability assistance effective January 2021. The provision of $20 million will raise the earnings exemption for single people on income assistance $100, up to $500 total per month. Families with children can now earn up to $150 more for a total of $750 monthly. For those on disability assistance, single people and single parents can now earn $15,000 annually, and two parent families with both adults on PWD can earn $6000 more up to $30,000 total.

A.J. Brown, an advocate with the BCPRC’s Community Action Network, welcomes the earnings exemption raise but says government must ensure the labour market is accessible to those living with disabilities.

“I want to work, but I need support to access a job that works for me,” AJ says, “the government needs to ensure jobs are actually accessible or the earnings exemption is meaningless, and the rates need to go up too.”

Our basic assistance rate remains at a low $760 per month, which must cover housing, food, and all basic needs, without coverage of transportation needs despite the requirement to look for work. At this rate, those on basic assistance remain below 50% of the poverty line which is based on the estimated cost of living. The disability rate remains $1183 plus a transportation allowance of $52 per month. The earnings exemption raise will only benefit 4,800 people receiving disability assistance.

BC Budget 2020 includes $24 million over three years for an ‘up-front, needs-based’ student grant program to support low- to middle-income post secondary students with grants up to $4000 per year. Students in programs under two years will be eligible for $4000 per year under the BC Access Grant. For those in programs two years and over, $1000 per year will be accessible through the BC Access Grant.

“The BC Poverty Reduction has long-advocated for an increase in the availability of post-secondary grants for lower income students, and we applaud this investment,” Ellis says.

“However, we are dismayed that those accessing income and disability assistance are still not able to access the educational opportunities they need to lift out of poverty and benefit from the BC Access Grant,” Ellis says.

According to the Market Basket Measure, which calculates the cost of living based on a basket of goods and services, as of 2017, 481,000 British Columbians remain in poverty in BC including 81,000 children. BC has the second highest poverty rate in Canada.

Using a 2016 baseline, BC’s poverty reduction strategy, TogetherBC, aims to lift 140,000 people out of poverty, including 50,000 children, reducing child poverty 50% and overall poverty 25% by 2024. The five-year period to meet these targets began in January 2019, and the first progress report for TogetherBC is due by October 2020.

 

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For media interviews please contact:

Viveca Ellis, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC)
viveca@bcpovertyreduction.ca / 604-366-1008