Northern News Services
Friday, August 3, 2007
YELLOWKNIFE - The Government of the Northwest Territories is hoping to take a big bite out of poverty by overhauling the Income Security program and injecting a $5.9 million financial boost.
What it all adds up to
• GNWT is increasing the Income Security budget to $17.9 million from $12 million - an almost 50 per cent increase
• of the $5.9 million, $5.5 million will go directly to benefits
• an average of 1,100 people are on income assistance each month
• income assistance clients receive assistance for 4.7 months, on average
Starting this fall, income assistance will shift from a 'last resort' program to a holistic plan that helps individuals achieve self-reliance.
"We expect people to demonstrate their personal responsibility by participating in productive choices," said Charles Dent, minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) on Thursday."
Education programs, medical treatment, counselling, community service work, and traditional lifestyles are all considered productive choices. Clients who do not participate in productive choices will receive less assistance, said Dent.
GNWT will spend an extra $3.6 million in 2007 to implement the changes, which come into effect Sept. 1.
Income assistance benefit rates will increase according to the cost of living in each community.
A new incidental allowance for seniors and persons with disabilities will be introduced, ranging from $37 a month in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilo to $75 in Paulatuk.
Food rates and clothing rates have been altered based on local costs.
The monthly shelter rate for singles will go from $750 to $900.
The incentive to work - the amount which working clients can keep after receiving benefits - is currently $200 a month per individual and $400 a month per family; as of September, 15 per cent of additional earnings can be added to that.
Income support clients will be allowed to accept up to $1,200 a year from another source such as friends and family without having their benefits clawed back.
ECE will also establish government service centres in remote communities, taking a one-stop shopping approach to social programming.
Income security officers will take on a new role, becoming client service officers who will take a case management approach, addressing clients' individual needs in a holistic approach, connecting them with other agencies, such as Health and Social Services, Justice, and Housing.
"What we're hoping to move to is a program that allows more flexibility, that recognizes that not everybody comes to the table with exactly the same circumstances," said Dent.
It's also hoped the new approach will prevent different programs from conflicting with each other, so that an increase in one doesn't mean a clawback somewhere else.
Changes to the income assistance program now and in the future will focus on self-reliance, Dent said. It's not just about money, but connecting clients with the programs and services that will help them participate fully in community life.
The changes to the Income Security program come in response to a review launched in 2005 that included consultation with 444 people across the NWT.
According to Dent, Thursday's announcement is only the first step. Further changes to programming for seniors and persons with disabilities as well as other programs like housing are still needed.
Jane Whyte, executive director of the Yellowknife Association for Community Living, was pleased with the government's new philosophy, which echoes her organization's focus - to connect each individual with the resources needed for self-reliance and full inclusion in the community.
'The dollar amount will never be enough, but the philosophical change is priceless," said Whyte.
Lyda Fuller, executive director of the YWCA, was thrilled with Dent's announcement, both the change of philosophy and the monetary increase to income assistance.
"I was really impressed they're adding $5.9 million to the budget, given the current climate,' said Fuller. "There's always so many competing priorities, and it's nice to see marginalized people at the top of the list."
Cecily Hewitt, executive director of the NWT Council of Persons with Disabilities, was pleased the government listened to the organizations and individuals that took part in the consultation process.
"It shows the legislators respect the people who are the most vulnerable," she said.
"During the review, the overriding attitude was, 'Here we go again. The government is asking us what we think, and they're not going to listen.' Just the fact they have listened is going to have a positive impact."