North

Lottery winnings docked from Nunavut income support

Under Nunavut legislation, people who receive money through income assistance are not allowed to keep more than $40 of extra money they win without seeing their support payments go down.

Towtongie says the government is punishing income support clients for winning at bingo

MLA Cathy Towtongie says income assistance clients shouldn't have to lose some of their monthly support payment because they won a game of bingo. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Under Nunavut legislation, people who receive money through income assistance are not allowed to keep more than $40 of extra money they win without seeing their support payments go down. 

The MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet Cathy Towtongie calls this "disheartening."

"Income assistant clients have their benefits reduced simply because they've had the good luck to win at bingo or in a lottery," she said during question period in the Legislative Assembly on Monday. 

While income assistance is reserved for people to buy food and clothes when they have no other means, Towtongie said the rule punishes people who already live on limited means.  

"Winning a sum at bingo or in a lottery may give these same individuals the opportunity to buy items like snow machines or hunting and fishing equipment, which they can then use to provide more for themselves or their families," she said. "We all need hope and a bingo win is a sign that good things can happen." 

Some payments count, others don't 

Under the Nunavut Income Assistance Act, some kinds of "unearned income" are calculated when deciding how much a person's net income is — that's the total amount someone makes in a month.  

The net income is used to calculate how much income support a person is eligible for. 

In Nunavut $40 can not buy anything. Maybe it can buy a few pampers and toilet paper,- MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet Cathy Towtongie

Some money earned is exempt from that net income, like daycare subsidies, child tax benefits, foster care payments, and training allowances of under $200. 

But some kinds of unearned money that are included in net income are: 

  • employment insurance payments 
  • pension payments
  • a veterans allowance 
  • regular gifts and gratuities of over $40
  • in kind income valued at more than $40
  • available money held in trust for a child 
  • a percentage of money earned from boarders or renters. 
  • and, winnings in excess of $40 a month, including bingo and lottery winnings

Towtongie wants to see the rules changed so that "small winnings" don't lessen income support payments.    

"In Nunavut $40 can not buy anything. Maybe it can buy a few pampers and toilet paper," she said.  

Minister says she's working on it 

Family Services minister Elisapee Sheutiapik says it's not an easy fix. 

"When I heard that for the first time I was surprised too," she said. "I have already given direction to my staff to look at amending the legislation." 

For now these regulations to deduct winnings are part of the law.

"It's not easy to change legislation. Policy would have been one thing, but it's in legislation," she said. "The legislation itself has to be changed. If I started running my department or our government on just giving direction, and put aside legislation, we wouldn't be running properly."

In 2017 the Nunavut government amended the Income Assistance Act so that clients could earn more discretionary income without seeing their monthly allowance reduced. Clients can now have a small savings account. 

These changes were made so that people experiencing poverty could start to feel financially independent, and have an incentive to take on work. 

Earlier in the sitting, Iqaluit MLA Pat Angnakak challenged the government for penalizing people who raise money for their communities through lotteries and games that are unlicensed.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.