BC Recovery Benefit application process highlights systemic barriers

The provincial government's one-time payment of $500 for eligible individuals and $1,000 for eligible families is welcome news, but disability advocates point out the application process creates an additional burden for many British Columbians.

Families and individuals on provincial income and disability assistance will have their $300-monthly COVID-19 financial aid cut in half starting in January 2021. While they qualify for the new BC Recovery Benefit, advocates say the application process creates unnecessary barriers. Photo: pexels.com

The new BC Recovery Benefit is welcome news for many, but disability advocates say the application process creates barriers for people with disabilities already living far below the poverty line.

Between April and December 2020, people on provincial income and disability assistance received an automatic COVID-19 financial supplement of $300 per month. That amount will reduce to only $150 per month starting in January 2021. While the NDP government’s one-time Recovery Benefit payment of $500 for eligible individuals and $1,000 for eligible will slightly increase the overall financial support for those on income and disability assistance over the next few months, advocacy groups say the application process creates an unnecessary hardship.

In a statement on its website, Disability Alliance BC said while it appreciates the provincial government’s “response to aiding our communities into economic recovery from COVID-19, we are saddened to see that this new BC Recovery Supplement in particular will ultimately result in a drop of COVID-19-related financial assistance for people on provincial income and disability assistance.”

Inclusion BC said it, “is glad to see an extension of benefits for people with disabilities but we are disappointed that the disability top-up amount was reduced and the remaining amount (recovery benefit) is subject to an application process. The application process will reduce access for those who require additional support to apply or get caught up on their taxes. There is no guarantee of an extension past March.”

Dan Davies, BC Liberal Opposition Critic for Social Development and Poverty Reduction released a statement saying outrage is growing throughout the province over the NDP government’s decision to claw back pandemic benefits for vulnerable people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities often incur additional costs, they often cannot work in the same capacity as other British Columbians, and they are some of the most vulnerable members of our community when it comes to COVID-19. To take away additional supports they rely on in this time of crisis and hope no one would notice is completely unacceptable,” Davies said.

Systemic barriers create additional burden for people already struggling

Here in Revelstoke, Erin MacLachlan, co-director of Community Outreach and Development at Community Connections, said for many people already struggling, the adjustment to their monthly income puts them in a position where they now have to scramble with less. MacLachlan said while people are eager to apply for the benefit, many are worried about the process.

“It creates barriers because the information that’s provided about the benefit doesn’t allow people to understand clearly what they can expect. The website has a lot of information, but the information isn’t easily understood by everybody that reads it. It’s government speak. Staff at Community Connections are really trying to be those translators, so that’s one piece really trying to translate the process,” she said.

MacLachlan said the application process also adds to the idea that there are deserving and undeserving people. “So you’re undeserving if you don’t know how to use the internet and you don’t know how to figure this out, and that means you can’t get the money. It’s not an explicit statement, but it’s implicit because as soon as you try to do it and you struggle, that becomes something that becomes a deficit within yourself as opposed to the fact that this system is silly.”

Despite knowledge that those relying on income and disability assistance survive on an income well below the provincial poverty line, some critics have questioned providing COVID-related financial supports for people who already receive government aid. MacLachlan points out people on provincial disability assistance receive $1100 per month and can earn up to a maximum of $900 per month.

“That’s $2,000 a month. Who can survive on that in Revelstoke? That’s not enough. To me that’s wrong, that’s a form of systemic oppression. You’re creating indentured poverty. You can’t get out of it because you’re in a position where your disability limits your capacity for a full-time job and that’s why you’re on assistance, but then to have a cap on your earnings means you’re only ever going to have the ability to live on $2,000 a month.

MacLachlan also points out the idea that people on income and disability assistance simply need to budget better is outdated and needs to change.

“I love the comparison of if you had a city of 100 people and one person in that city really struggled and never had enough money and couldn’t get by, it’s probably an individual problem. But if you had 20 people out of that 100 that can’t afford to live, who all have full-time jobs and that money doesn’t cover their expenses, that’s not an individual problem, that’s a community problem. That’s a nation problem. In Canada that’s the reality, we have an unequal distribution of wealth and resources which causes a huge section of our population to struggle. That’s not an individual problem. That’s not about budgeting because if it was about budgeting then you could figure it out and you could get out of whatever hole you are in.”

Advocacy groups call for permanent increase to income, disability assistance

Advocacy groups like Disability Alliance BC have been lobbying the provincial government to make the $300 COVID-19 crisis supplement permanent, further indexed for inflation.

Disability Alliance BC has also been lobbying the provincial government to make the $300 COVID-19 crisis supplement permanent, further indexed for inflation “because we know that current income and disability assistance rates are below the poverty line and therefore inadequate to meet basic needs.”

In response to criticism and calls to make the $300 a month increase to income and disability permanent, BC NDP leader John Horgan said he will push for the raise but stated it is ultimately the minister of finance who makes the decision. MacLachlan points out the provincial government has had eight months to do something.

“The government always has an opportunity to address their systems of oppression and they don’t. I can appreciate that there’s longstanding ways of doing things and changing systems is big, but I do believe we have to hold politicians responsible. We need people saying ‘this is unacceptable, this process is unacceptable, you’ve created more barriers for people. You’ve made these intricate financial hoops that people have to jump through that are unnecessary.”

You can apply for the BC Recovery Benefit until June 30, 2021. Community Connections is offering assistance for those who may need help applying. You can make an appointment by calling 250-837-2920.