Child support clawback for parents on income assistance could end in spring

Premier Stephen McNeil has called it unfair but it's unclear whether his government is ready to end the policy of clawing back child support payments from families on income assistance.

'It's not a lot, but when it is clawed back, it is a lot. Every little bit helps,' says mother of two

Sharon Himmelman says the child support she receives for her daughter, Mara, 10, should not be clawed back by the province from her income assistance. (CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil has called it unfair but it's unclear whether his government is ready to end the policy of clawing back child support payments from families on income assistance.

Lynn Hartwell, deputy minister of Community Services, said Wednesday her department has made that recommendation to cabinet.

"I'm not able to confirm one way or the other, but what I can tell you is that we have spent the last several months examining the issue and have put forward recommendations and so we'll probably get some direction on that shortly."

The change could come during the upcoming spring session of the Nova Scotia Legislature, she said.

It is "extremely, extremely difficult" to raise a healthy family on provincial income assistance without the added financial hit of having child support clawed back, says Sharon Himmelman, the single mother of two young girls.

Himmelman receives about $169 every month in child support, a portion of which is taken from the amount of money she receives on income assistance.

"It's not a lot, but when it is clawed back, it is a lot. Every little bit helps," she said. "Generally there's about a one- to two-week period before I get my child tax benefit where I am completely broke, don't even have money for a jug of milk."

Sharon Himmelman said it is "extremely, extremely difficult" to raise her two daughters on income assistance without losing the small amount of child support she receives.

Himmelman's two daughters are 10 and six years old.

"I am getting the money clawed back from the child support I receive for my oldest daughter, which has been frustrating for me and I've asked questions about that. They tell me they consider that a form of income, which doesn't seem like the appropriate term for me. I am not the employee of my child's father. We are supposed to be parenting together," Himmelman said.

"This money is not for me. It is for my child, to help support her, to make sure she had everything that she needs."

'All talk and no action'

Himmelman said her youngest daughter, born 17 weeks prematurely, has serious health issues and it is another financial battle to get her needs met.

"She's almost seven years old and under 35 pounds."

It costs about $150 per month to buy the high-calorie, nutritious food the child requires and income assistance only pays $66 of that amount, she said.

In October, Premier Stephen McNeil said his government is looking at how to end a clawback on child support payments received by parents on income assistance. (CBC)

"I've seen the red tape, the clawbacks, the reductions. It feels like nothing is ever going to change despite all the promises. They say there is going to be change, but for most of us, … it is all talk and no action," she said. "Access to programs only work if we know about them. That's one of the difficulties."

Himmelman, who is enrolled in the social services program at Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth, said it was a struggle to return to school.

"Trying to get the funding to go to school to take this program was a little bit of a challenge but I've definitely appreciated being in the program. It is an area and a field that I really love."

With files from Jean Laroche

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