Another Barrier to Accessing Income Assistance
Generally, when people apply for income assistance, they are doing so as a last resort. They have exhausted all resources and do not have the means to support themselves. People who are new to income assistance may not be familiar with the legislation and may expect that they will receive a cheque shortly after completing their application. This is not so. Waits for intake appointments are sometimes more than a month long, and there is a required five-week work search which follows the intake appointment and which must be completed before the applicant can receive a cheque.
The mandatory five-week work search, implemented by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in October, extends the previous three-week work search, and is having serious implications for new applicants. People will now find themselves without any income through at least two billing cycles. Beyond the obvious risk of homelessness resulting from an inability to pay rent for two months, the five-week work search means that many new applicants will fall behind on their bills and will be unable to purchase food or medication, resulting in greater risk to their physical health and creating a significant financial burden. To be clear, the vast majority of people on basic income assistance must comply with an employment plan and provide proof to the MSD that they are constantly looking for work, a requirement the MSD monitors and enforces on a regular basis.
To offset the five-week work search, the new legislation contains a provision that those who have an immediate need be assessed as such and be placed on hardship assistance immediately, exempting them from the mandatory five-week work search. On hardship assistance, a person receives the regular income assistance amount, but must re-apply for the hardship assistance every month until they are assessed for regular income assistance benefits.
So what does an immediate need look like? Those who can demonstrate that they have an immediate need for food or medication or that they have received an eviction notice for non-payment of rent should be assessed as having an immediate need. However, TAPS is seeing many people in those exact circumstances, but who the Ministry has failed to assess as having an immediate need. TAPS advocates often have to intervene on behalf of clients to ensure they have access to resources to maintain their housing and buy food. Once a person has received an eviction notice for non-payment of rent, they have a limited window of five days in which to pay the rent in order to maintain their tenancy. It is essential, therefore, that people in this circumstance receive help from the Ministry immediately.
Legislative provisions such as the mandatory five-week work search further perpetuate the poverty trap, leaving those who can retain their housing constantly struggling financially to meet their basic needs and stay on top of their bills, and those who cannot retain their housing joining a growing number of homeless individuals and families.
The new five-week work search is problematic for a number of reasons, and we are seeing a substantial fallout as a result. If you are applying for income assistance and need help in being assessed for hardship, contact Tasha or Kim at TAPS at 250-361-3521.