Leftover social assistance should go to 'people who need it'
Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty tells Legislature there is less demand for assistance
If there is money left in the social assistance budget on P.E.I. the province should not respond by cutting the budget, says a professor who studies food insecurity.
Last year the province underspent on social assistance grants by $1.9 million, and responded by cutting next year's budget by $1.7 million. Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty said there was decreased demand.
But the decrease in need is being questioned by those who work in the field.
At the Charlottetown Food Bank, manager Mike MacDonald said his staff remains busy. He said they serve more than 1,500 people each month at the food bank and more than 4,000 meals each month at soup kitchens.
Jennifer Taylor, chair of applied human sciences at UPEI, studies food insecurity on the Island, and she believes more can be done for low-income families in the province.
"What you need to do is provide adequate benefits in the first place, and if there is money left over it should be in the pockets of the people who need it,” said Taylor.
"It doesn't matter if people aren't applying, the people who are on financial assistance could have benefited, I'm sure, for more money.”
Docherty said they will never say no to anybody who is eligible for their programs.
"Our utilization was down and I think we have to look at that as a positive thing,” said Docherty.
“Islanders are obviously getting work.”
The Opposition's James Aylward said since raising the matter Friday, he has heard from many others.
"I don't know if she ... goes in the back door into her office and doesn't see the people queued up out front, because our office and myself have been hearing from Islanders constantly,” he said.
"People are getting their allowable maximum but we all know it's well short,” said NDP Leader Mike Redmond. “There are people who are really struggling and have given up hope, or have left the province."
Docherty admitted last April that rates paid to people on social assistance are too low, but said she can't improve them this year. She is working on a five-year plan to increase food rates for all clients that will begin next year.