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Tuk income support changes criticized

Chris DiCesare
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 22, 2011

Those receiving income support in Tuktoyaktuk will soon be getting vouchers for the grocery store instead of cheques they can cash - and some residents are not happy about the changes.

"You can't do this to people. There are only a few people who abuse the system, and the few people who have abused the system have hurt the others in the community who haven't abused the system," one Tuktoyaktuk resident told News/North, requesting anonymity.

The changes, recommended by the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk via a council resolution and supported by the district education authority, are to be effective as of Sept. 1, according to the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), which administers the income support program.

Effective Sept. 1, payments for rent and utilities will be made to companies and individuals supplying the services, according to a statement released by the department.

On the ECE website, the income support program's principles state that the program is intended to "encourage self-reliance, treat individuals with respect and dignity, have clear policies and procedures and target benefits to those most in need."

The Tuk resident speaking against the changes said this latest move by ECE affects the way income support recipients feel about themselves.

"We need support programs like budgeting, parenting skills and healthy food choice programs. We don't need to be babysat by the government, this will give the community a black eye," the resident said. "It (the program change) has taken our dignity and pride away from our community, and the worst part is there were no public meetings by the hamlet or the ECE."

There are 137 families on income support in Tuktoyaktuk, which has a population of close to 1,000. The intervention by the department on behalf of the hamlet reinforces "negative stereotypes of aboriginal people," the resident said.

In its defence, the department stated, "all of our support programs are designed to help Northerners maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle. ECE became involved when concerns were raised by community members; the hamlet office contacted us for assistance with this program."

Hamlet council requested the program changes in February. The motion to approach ECE had one dissenting voice on council - Georgina Jacobson-Masuzumi. The voucher system will remain in effect until March 2012, at which time its effectiveness will be evaluated.

The community member who spoke to News/North offered this alternative to the voucher system: "I think the cash should be put back in place and the system should be fine-tuned. People need to take ownership of the program to make it work for them," she said. "The people are befuddled, they don't understand the new rules and the hardships that they will create, nor do they know how the changes will benefit them."

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson couldn't be reached for comment.

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