New rule: People on welfare can keep $200 of earnings
By Jean Swanson
After no increase in welfare rates for over five years, the BC government announced 28 changes to welfare policy last month. Unfortunately, none of them were rate increases and we still have to keep the pressure up.
The best change is allowing people on welfare who are expected to work to earn and keep $200 a month. Right now BC is the only province that doesn’t have an earnings exemption for people who are expected to work. The new rule doesn’t go into effect until October 1 though. This change means that people who are working for $3 or $4 an hour in some of the hotels can demand minimum wage of $10.25 an hour and declare their earnings to welfare. If you don’t earn more than $200 a month the government won’t deduct it from your welfare cheque as they have been doing. This is a slight victory for groups like Carnegie Community Action Project and Raise the Rates who have been fighting for this change for years.
A lot of the other changes eliminate some rules that were hair-tearingly frustrating. These include not allowing families on hardship to keep their child benefits or lump sum Family Benefits refunds, or not allowing children whose parents were on Hardship to get any dental care. These ridiculous rules will be ended in October.
A single person can now have up to $2000 in assets, up from $759, and a family can have assets worth up to $4000, which is also higher than before. This means if you are thinking you might have to go on welfare, be sure to apply before you are completely broke. People on disability can now have up to $5000 in assets and couples and families on disability can have up to $10,000.
People on disability will be able to keep $800 a month of what they earn, up from $500. But this affects only about five percent of people who get these benefits.
On the bad side there is a lot of rhetoric about making people look for work. By October you will have to look for work for five weeks after you apply for welfare, not three as you do now. And if you have an immediate need for food, shelter or urgent medical attention when you apply, you can get hardship, not welfare. Hardship doesn’t provide as many benefits and you might have to pay it back.
Back on the good side, the government will end the time limits for being on welfare (two years in a five year period). But they say there will be “intensified work-search requirements.” This could mean people will be harassed unmercifully to find jobs which may not exist.
It all adds up to: we have a lot more work to do to pressure both the Liberals and the NDP to raise welfare rates, to say nothing of building more social housing that people on welfare can afford.