A dozen non-profits and social organizations in St. John’s have signed a letter urging the Newfoundland and Labrador government to end penalties imposed on income support recipients who also received the federal Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
Representatives from organizations like Choices For Youth, Stella’s Circle and the City of St. John’s affordable housing department signed the letter, which was written by Doug Pawson, executive director of End Homelessness St. John’s. The letter is addressed to Christopher Mitchelmore, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour.
“Our province cannot afford to have our neighbours who rely on income supports see their income, housing health and supplementary supports jeopardized,” the letter reads. “Enforcing penalties on Income Support recipients who received a federal benefit places the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in the position to absorb the social and financial costs that arise with increases in homelessness, incarceration and healthcare system usage.”
The letter adds that any savings incurred by clawing back income support from those who also received the CERB will evaporate if the people penalized wind up in the province’s costly shelter system, or in the criminal justice system.
Newfoundland and Labrador is one of six Canadian provinces and territories to be clawing back income support dollar for dollar for anyone who also received the CERB, whether they qualified for the federal benefit or not.
Anti-poverty and anti-homelessness advocates say the move punishes some of the most vulnerable people in the provinces, setting them up for a gap in income when they must reapply for income support when the CERB runs out.
They also worry people will be punished twice: first, by the provincial government, when their income support is flagged for overpayment if they received the CERB as well, and second, when the federal government comes knocking for a payback if they didn’t qualify for the CERB in the first place.
“The CERB was implemented without the usual checks and balances in order to deliver payments to Canadians quickly and easily in a time of great need and uncertainty for a period of up to 24 weeks,” the letter states. “Individuals have had to make the best decisions for themselves and their families based on available information, even as both federal and provincial policies continue to shift beneath their feet.”
According to Toronto’s Maytree Foundation, a Toronto-based anti-poverty group, a single person in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2018 would have cleared about $11,300 through social assistance benefits, including income support and tax credits.
That’s more than $8,000 below the poverty threshold, according to the market basket measure.
The letter calls for a one-time change to the provincial Income and Employment Support Act to waive all penalties associated with receiving the CERB.
“This is similar to the amendments made earlier this Spring around the Residential Tenancies Act, which put a stay on evictions resulting from economic hardship due to COVID-19,” Pawson told the Independent in an email.
“We desperately need to see leadership from the provincial government,” he said.
As of Thursday morning, Pawson said he had not received a response from Mitchelmore.
Photo via End Homelessness St. John’s.
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