VICTORIA - B.C.'s most vulnerable families are getting a helping hand thanks to income and disability assistance changes that take effect today. The changes, announced in June as part of the Families First Agenda, are designed to help vulnerable individuals and families attain better financial outcomes, assist people with disabilities to lead more independent lives, and help people capable of work avoid the cycle of income-assistance dependence.
Some of the key changes that take effect today include:
- A $200 monthly earnings exemption for all expected-to-work clients to give employable individuals a chance to build job skills and experience, take advantage of short-term or temporary work, and better provide for their families while receiving assistance.
- An $800 monthly earnings exemption for individuals receiving disability assistance.
- An exemption of income tax refunds so individuals and families on income and disability assistance will be able to keep their full income tax refund without it affecting their benefits.
- Restoring a number of medically necessary medical equipment and supplies for clients on income and disability assistance, including ventilator supplies, bariatric scooters, orthoses and apnea monitors.
- Access to dental services for children of families on hardship assistance so parents can take their children in for regular dental checkups.
- An extension of income assistance to parents without legal status in Canada who are fleeing abuse and can't leave the country with their children.
Further changes will come into effect next year, including:
- Mandatory income tax filing rules for those on income and disability assistance - which comes into effect in spring 2013 - will ensure individuals and families are getting all the tax credits they are entitled to. Appropriate exemptions will be in place to protect anyone who may be exposed to risk, such as fleeing an abusive partner.
- Annualized earnings exemptions for individuals on disability assistance will provide the flexibility to calculate earnings on an annual basis, so that individuals with disabilities can maximize their earnings during times when they are feeling healthy and able to work.
One change has already come into effect. On the August income assistance cheque, parents with school-aged children received an increased school start-up supplement to help with extra costs associated with a dependent child's schooling. Families on assistance now receive $100 for every child aged 5-11 (up from $84) and $175 for every child aged 12 and over (up from $116). As well, the school start-up supplement was extended to children on hardship assistance.
Minister of Social Development Moira Stilwell, M.D. -
"As a government, we have a responsibility to provide support to vulnerable people and their families, and we take this commitment seriously. These changes make immediate improvements to the income and disability assistance system, and we'll continue to work with clients and stakeholders to look for other innovative, progressive ways we can improve the system."
- As of August 2012, there were 177,176 income assistance recipients in B.C. Of these, 99,583 were recipients of disability assistance.
- Clients with an immediate need for food, shelter or urgent medical attention are eligible to receive hardship assistance.
- The school start-up supplement issued on the August income assistance cheques benefitted an estimated 23,000 children.
- The five-week work search, supports and services for unemployed British Columbians through WorkBC and the Employment Program of B.C., and reforms like increased earnings exemptions and asset increases, are all helping people avoid the cycle of income assistance dependency and get back into the workforce.
- Earnings exemptions give individuals a better opportunity to develop their job skills and get work experience to transition into employment, take advantage of short-term or temporary work opportunities, and better provide for their families while receiving assistance.
- In April, the Ministry of Social Development opened WorkBC Employment Services Centres in communities throughout the province to deliver the new Employment Program of B.C., which provides the supports and services to get unemployed British Columbians back into the workforce quickly.
For more information on Income and Disability Assistance policy changes, including a complete list of the changes, go to: www.gov.bc.ca/hsd
For more information on the Employment Program of B.C. or to find a WorkBC Employment Services Centre near you, go to: www.workbccentres.ca
A backgrounder follows.
Public Affairs Officer
Ministry of Social Development
Income and Disability Assistance Policy Changes in effect Oct. 1
Improve financial outcomes for vulnerable families
- Providing access to dental services for children of families on hardship assistance so parents can take their children in for regular dental checkups.
- Child-benefit exemptions for families on hardship assistance.
- Increasing the maximum top-up for the Family Bonus from $123.50, to $181.41, and continuing to match future federal increases, which means more money every month for those families who are receiving the Family Bonus top-up.
- Families on assistance who are not receiving monthly federal family bonus payments are eligible for a temporary Family Bonus top-up from the ministry. When their lump sum payment comes from the federal government, it will be exempt minus any amount advanced by the ministry through the temporary top-up supplement up to one month's assistance.
- Families will now get to keep any amount of lump sum Family Bonus payment above one month's assistance and any amount for months when the ministry did not pay top up.
- Exempting income-tax refunds so individuals and families on income assistance will be able to keep their full income-tax refund
Modest increases to personal assets
- A single person can now retain assets, including cash, up to $2,000.
- Couples or families will able to keep up to $4,000 in assets, including cash.
- For single disability assistance clients, their asset limit, including cash, is increasing to $5,000.
- For couples and families receiving disability assistance, they can retain up to $10,000 in assets, including cash.
- Expected-to-work clients will be able to keep a car valued up to $10,000.
Providing assistance for parents without status who are fleeing abuse
- Parents without legal status in Canada who are fleeing abuse, and can't leave the country with their children, can receive assistance while they work with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to resolve their legal status.
Assist individuals with disabilities to lead more independent lives
Earnings exemption enhancements for disability assistance clients
- A family where one individual has the PWD designation will be able to earn up to $800 per month and still receive their full benefits (previously $500).
- A family where both individuals have the PWD designation can earn up to $1,600 per month without impacting their benefits (previously $750).
- The waiting period for claiming earnings exemptions for former disability assistance clients who find they have to reapply for assistance will be waived.
Trust and asset enhancements
- People on disability assistance can now invest up to $200,000 - double the previous amount - in a non-discretionary trust account. This is the same amount that individuals can keep in their Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).
- Individuals will be able to access up to $8,000 per year from their trust account for any other cost related to promoting independence - nearly double the previous annual allowance - and make their own choices about how best to use these funds.
Help individuals and families avoid the cycle of income assistance dependency
Reinstate earnings exemptions for employable clients
- Instituting a modest $200 monthly earnings exemption for all expected-to-work clients, regardless of family size, to give employable individuals a better opportunity to get job skills and experience, take advantage of short-term or temporary work, and better provide for their families while receiving assistance.
Extend work search for new applicants to five weeks
- For new income-assistance applicants, the work-search period is being extended to five weeks to strengthen income assistance applicants' efforts to find employment.
- Returning clients will still be required to undergo a three-week work search before they are eligible to receive income assistance.
Expand Application and intensity of work search requirements
- Removing time limits (previously 24 months in a five-year period) and replacing with intensified work-search requirements to help ensure that those on income assistance are using all available resources to find work.
- Clients with an immediate need for food, shelter or urgent medical attention will receive hardship assistance while still being required to undergo a three-week (for returning clients) or five-week (for new clients) work search.
- Enhancing employment planning to support people transitioning off income assistance and returning to work.
Public Affairs Officer
Ministry of Social Development