The Department of Social Development’s decision to demand Ron Powers repay $264 from an overpayment in social assistance has caused donors to step in and offer to cover the 15-year-old bill.
Powers received a letter from the provincial government saying he was overpaid in 1997 and that he owed $264.
The letter was from the province's new recovery unit, which is being asked to collect $14.5 million in money owed to the government.
Those who work with the poor, some politicians and many citizens have waded into the debate with their outrage over the bill and the government's handling of the file.
But Powers said he’s also been approached by two people, who he didn’t know before this week, who have offered to repay the provincial government for him.
Powers said he declined the first person’s offer of help.
"If you want to do this for me, please pay it forward. Please help someone else that needs the money," Powers said he told the person.
The second offer of help came from someone who wouldn't take no for an answer.
'I will swear on a Bible, but I don't recall ever getting a letter from them, and maybe I moved, and maybe the letter went to a previous address, I have no idea.' — Ron Powers
Powers said he will pay the bill to the provincial government as soon as he has the written proof of the error.
If that doesn't come, he said will pass the money along to someone who needs it more.
The entire situation has frustrated Powers. The department has called him and read a letter that he was apparently sent at the time of the overpayment.
The Minto man said he does not recall ever receiving the letter.
"I will swear on a Bible, but I don't recall ever getting a letter from them, and maybe I moved, and maybe the letter went to a previous address, I have no idea," he said.
Adding to his frustration, Powers points out how he went through a lot of red tape to return a previous overpayment.
'People are being treated like criminals'
Liberal MLA Bill Fraser said people who deliberately try to defraud the government should be ordered to return the money.
But the social development critic told the legislature on Thursday he can’t understand why the provincial government is treating people, such as Powers, so harshly.
"People are being treated like criminals and being strong-armed by heavy-handed tactics to collect from those who might not be in a position to fight back," he said.
In a statement, the Department of Social Development said in most cases of overpayment, the blame does rest with the recipients.
"The majority of overpayments registered with Social Development have occurred because clients at the time they were receiving assistance failed to notify the department of the changes to their status ," the statement said.
"Although some overpayments could be caused by administrative errors, the majority are due to unreported income, failure to report on whereabouts, failure to report on living arrangements, etc."