BC Budget 2023: Too Little, Too Late for Many Ministry Clients
By Gillian Gaffney, TAPS Income Assistance Legal Advocate
Since 2007, the ‘shelter allowance’ for folks who receive social assistance from the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction has been frozen at an unlivable $375 per month. With a lack of vacancy control dragging tenants into a veritable wild west of a rental market, recipients of provincial income assistance and disability benefits have been left in the dust when it comes to competing in an already-tight race for housing. It’s no secret that many Ministry clients spend a disproportionate amount of their assistance on subpar housing. They are also frequently in rental situations that fall outside of the protection of the Residential Tenancy Act, which leaves them with little legal recourse when things go wrong.
Budget 2023 brings some sorely needed relief to some Ministry clients. Starting with the July 19th cheque date, the shelter allowance for an individual receiving income, hardship, or Persons With Disability (PWD) assistance will change from $375 to $500 per month, an increase of $125. This is certainly a step in the right direction… for some. For many others – namely those living in subsidized housing – this increase will never hit their pockets. This is because in subsidized housing, the cost of rent is tied to each residents’ income, and is therefore subject to change when their income changes. Depending on the to-be-announced fine print about how this increased shelter amount will interact with B.C. Housing subsidies, we are left with two potential outcomes for Ministry clients in subsidized housing: one, if a housing provider is charging residents the “shelter rate” for rent, they could increase rents accordingly to $500, meaning that extra $125 would go directly to the housing provider. On the other hand, for those whose rent does not increase beyond the previous shelter maximum of $375, they won’t see this additional money at all since they would need to prove to the Ministry that their shelter costs have increased in order to be eligible. Of those who are eligible for the increase and are not living in subsidized housing but rather are struggling to keep their heads above water paying market rent, this increase will do little to stopple hemorrhaging living costs during a worsening affordability crisis. In short, the increase is nice but it’s simply too little, too late for many folks living in poverty in B.C.
In addition to the shelter allowance increase, we are pleased to the see that the Budget 2023 will also include increases to some supplements available to Ministry clients. Effective August 1, 2023, there will be rate increases to crisis supplements for food and clothing; monthly nutritional, diet, and natal supplements; infant formula supplements; medical transportation and associated meal allowance supplements; and the school start-up supplement. In addition, starting this fall, the Ministry has confirmed that the annual ‘Christmas supplement’ will be increased and renamed the ‘Winter Supplement.’ The amounts of these increases will be announced closer to the effective date of the change.
As always, any raise to rates is considered a welcome change and we appreciate that Budget 2023 has introduced some critically needed and long-awaited increases for some folks receiving social assistance. However, while a step in the right direction, these increases fall short of meaningful change for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. While $125 is not an insignificant amount of money for folks trying to survive on social assistance, these changes are little more than a band-aid approach to addressing gaping systemic wounds. TAPS will continue to advocate for foundational changes to these broken social systems. In the meantime, TAPS advocates are here for Ministry clients who need assistance in learning about and accessing the benefits they are entitled to.