British Columbia

B.C.'s COVID-19 income and disability assistance top-up will soon be cut in half

The opposition B.C. Liberals are decrying what they call a government “clawback” of a supplemental COVID-19 benefit for people on income and disability assistance. 

Government says by the end of March, people with disabilities will have received more money despite the cut

An elderly man on a wheelchair eats on a street corner.
In January, the COVID-19 the provinve's supplemental income and disability assistance will drop from $300 to $150 and last until March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The opposition B.C. Liberals are decrying what they call a government "clawback" of a supplemental COVID-19 benefit for people on income and disability assistance. 

But B.C.'s ruling party says, in the end, people with disabilities will be receiving more money thanks to the province's new one-time recovery benefit.

In question period Thursday, BC Liberal MLA Dan Davies challenged the government's decision to cut the $300 a month disability income assistance in half for the next three months. 

The provincial government temporarily added the benefit top-up back in April to help people on disability and income assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.

The supplement is also provided to low-income seniors who receive the B.C. Senior's Supplement and people who receive income or disability assistance and live in a special care facility.

In all, around 250,000 people were expected to benefit from the extra assistance when it was announced.

"The NDP are trying to frame this new payment as an additional support for people with disabilities while slashing their other benefits. It's disgraceful," said Davies, later in a release.

The MLA for Peace River North says the recovery benefit shouldn't impact the supplemental supports offered to people with disabilities.

"This is a cut to vulnerable people who can least afford it and it's coming in the middle of the second wave of a pandemic," he said.

The B.C. Liberals accuse the government of reducing benefits in the middle of a pandemic, but the province says the reduction is more than offset by its one-time recovery benefit payment. (MIke McArthur/CBC)

But during question period, MLA Nicholas Simons, B.C.'s new social development and poverty reduction minister, was quick to defend the government's decision.

"The long and short of it is that with the supplement, plus the recovery benefit, people receiving income assistance and disability assistance will, in fact, have more in their pocket at the end of March," said Nicholas.

With both the benefit and the monthly supplement of $150 for January through March, those receiving the income or disability assistance will receive more money — $50 to be exact.

"The recovery benefit is open to 3.7 million British Columbians ... We've also kept a supplement, albeit at a reduced rate. But that will result in everyone getting assistance receiving more than they otherwise would have," he said.

B.C.'s recovery benefit provides families with incomes under $125,000 a one-time payment of $1,000, while families earning up to $175,000 will qualify for a reduced amount. Individuals who earn less than $62,500 will receive $500 and individuals earning up to $87,500 will receive a reduced amount.

No further supplemental income has been announced past March.

Disability advocates worry the reduced benefit will negatively impact the same people it is supposed to help.

"Cutting this $300 benefit in half and then eliminating it completely in three months is shocking and frankly cruel," said Jewelles Smith with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

"There have been so few supports for people with disabilities across the country, this small amount has made such a difference to those who rely on benefits."

Smith says people with disabilities have used the benefit to buy groceries, personal protective equipment, transportation such as taxis for those who are at a higher risk on public transit, and for internet and mobile plans, which have become vital to stay connected during the pandemic.

"The Council of Canadians with Disabilities hoped the provincial government would make this a permanent increase. We certainly did not expect the benefit to be cut before the pandemic was even over," said Smith.