Province plays shell game

 Editor:

The provincial budget includes a $170 million increase over three years to Persons with Disabilities benefits (PWD) from the Ministry of Housing and Social Innovation. PWD has only increased by $120 per recipient per month since 2001. The current total is $906.42 per month for approximately 100,000 British Columbians. As of Sept. 1, the new budget would bring that total to a mere $983.42 per month, a $77 increase.

Putting aside for the moment that it is impossible to live in the Lower Mainland on less than $1,000 per month, and that PWD is not indexed to inflation, Finance Minister Mike de Jong is in fact playing a shell game with the quality of life of persons with disabilities. In order to achieve the supposed $77 increase, the provincial government will eliminate the $45 opt-in annual B.C. Bus Pass Program. Under this program, a PWD recipient could opt-in to pay a $45 administrative fee for an annual bus pass from the ministry for their local transit authority, such as TransLink or B.C. Transit, making the cost of transportation $3.75 per month. The new budget would mean that out of that $77 increase, PWD recipients would pay $52 per month for a monthly transit pass, while the $45 administrative fee remains in place, in order to facilitate the ministry taking the new transit fees directly off the monthly cheque. This increases the cost of transportation for people with disabilities by almost 15 times.

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It is worth noting other income assistance recipients such as welfare recipients and low-income seniors will still be able to purchase the bus pass for a flat $45 fee, and that other eligible concession transit riders, like students, can purchase a pass from the local grocery store or online for $52, without a government administration fee. This means that people with disabilities are the only ones harmed by this change.

De Jong acknowledged in his speech to the legislature that transportation is a basic need. He claimed the Bus Pass Program was eliminated in order to be fairer to people with disabilities in rural communities where transit is less available. However, the opposite is true. The existing program is opt-in, so a non-transit user is not being disadvantaged by its existence.

In fact, the new increase structure would provide triple the amount of income - $77 as opposed to $25 - to a non-transit user, in areas where the total cost of living is generally significantly lower than urban centres.

The reality is that people with disabilities who would otherwise use transit under the current system are likely to choose to spend that $52 on shelter, food and clothing instead of getting out. Social isolation of people with disabilities serves no one, and it runs counter to the goals of Accessibility 2024, which sets out to make B.C. one of the most inclusive provinces in Canada.

Marie Burgoyne

Barrister and Solicitor

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