A Port Alberni advocacy group was shocked when they heard the Government of British Columbia declared a cut to the annual bus pass program for those receiving Persons with Disabilities (PWD) benefits on the heels of an increase to monthly benefits.
On Feb. 16 the B.C. government announced a monthly increase, beginning Sept.1, of $77 to people receiving disability benefits—the first increase in nine years. At the same time, changes for PWD clients who access a subsidized annual bus pass, was introduced: cancelling the $45 a year bus pass and replacing it with a new monthly fee of $52 plus a $45 administration fee. The disability pension for people living in B.C. is $906 a month.
Susan Waldie, Liz Riddalls and Craig Summers, board members of the Port Alberni Association for Community Living (PAACL), are concerned with the government’s decision to claw back transportation support for those receiving disability pensions.
“When you’ve had a bus pass for $45 a year and now it’s going to be $52 a month, I mean just think of the ramifications of that,” Riddalls said. “[PWD] don’t have money to spare to begin with, it’s ridiculous.”
Craig Summers, executive director at PAACL, said the group strives to support PWD individuals in community inclusion. With the new $45 a month bus pass charge he questions how the people they serve will access the community and resources that are available to them.
“They don’t have a drivers’ license so they rely on public transportation,” Summers said.
“Now they have to choose between, do I get a bus pass or do I get an extra bag of groceries. Or do I stop going to programs?”
The group unanimously agreed that with the cost of living on the rise, those trying to survive on disability pensions could slide deeper into poverty, trying to live on their $906 a month.
People on disability assistance who access a subsidized annual bus pass will see an increase of $25 per month and those who do not receive transportation supports will receive the full $77 increase to their monthly cheque.
A release from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation stated that “around half” of B.C. residents with a PWD designation had access to the subsidized pass, or to a $66-per-month special transportation subsidy.
The government’s announcement prompted Susan Waldie, who is a parent to two sons receiving PWD pensions, to write a letter to Premier Christy Clark urging her to raise the rates for PWD clients and leave their bus passes alone.
“We want to keep this on the forefront,” Waldie said. “Even if [the government] gives them the full $77, it’s nowhere near what they need to keep up with the cost of living.”
Waldie said government representatives did not discuss the monthly bus pass increase with any poverty reduction teams prior to implementing the transportation clawback.
“There was no consultation with any of the individuals who are on the poverty reduction team, none of them,” Waldie said.
“They didn’t talk to mental health, they didn’t talk to community living or the disability caucus. There was no consultation, it was a slap in the face.”
Scott Fraser, MLA for Alberni-Pacific Rim, said this region has some of the highest poverty rates in the country and that, in his opinion, “government is engineering poverty for a large segment of the population through their tax policy.”
Fraser read segments of Waldie’s letter in the B.C. Legislature on March 2 to shed light on the struggles that could sprout for those who will be affected by the $45-a-month bus pass rate.
“I thought I’ve got to help [PAACL]. They’re taking the step to highlight the unfairness of this government, I’ve got to do my part in this legislature,” Fraser said.
British Columbia’s PWD benefits are among the lowest in Canada, said Waldie.
“This from the province boasting prosperity.”