Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia ends child-support clawbacks for parents on income assistance

The government of Nova Scotia will stop clawing back child-support payments from families on income assistance, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Advocate says changes are 'baby steps' in right direction

Sharon Himmelman, here with her daughter, Mara, 10, welcomed the changes as 'baby steps' in the right direction. (CBC)

The government of Nova Scotia will stop clawing back child-support payments from families on income assistance, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Members of the Legislative Assembly passed the changes to the Maintenance Enforcement Act in 2016 and proclaimed them into law Thursday. The changes will take effect in August.

Sharon Himmelman welcomed the end to clawbacks and said it would help her budget for things like seasonal clothes and school supplies for her two daughters, ages 10 and six. She had called for such changes, saying the clawbacks made the "extremely difficult" job of raising a healthy family on provincial income assistance even harder.

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

That will no longer be the case.

Still tough for those going back to school

"I think of this as a baby step in the right direction. They have made some changes with people who are going back to work and letting them keep more of the money, but they're not looking at the people that aren't able to work," she said Thursday.

But with no increase to income assistance, Himmelman said it remains a steep hill for people on disability, off on medical leave or going back to school.

"The things that still need to be done are overshadowing some of the baby steps they are making," she said.

Himmelman is turning her personal situation into a professional calling as she's studying to work in social services.

"I'm going to school so I can get a job so that I'm not sitting here on income assistance for the rest of my life and I can be a good role model for my kids and provide for ourselves so we're not worrying as much," she said.

"I've become very much an advocate for people who are living in poverty and on income assistance. It's definitely an area that's very personal to me and that I feel very passionate about."

Justice Minister Mark Furey announced the changes Thursday, saying the improved enforcement tools will bring 'more financial stability' to families. (CBC)

She gets no clothing allowance for going back to school and, like many single parents, rarely buys herself regular clothes, let alone professional clothes, as she instead spends what she has on her kids.

"There are places like Dress for Success, but places like that don't always work for everybody because different people have different body types or different ways they like to dress, or they may be going into different career lines," she said.

Enforcement tools sharpened

Other changes include:

  • The ability for program staff to revoke, suspend or prohibit renewal of driver's licences and vehicle permits for payers in default.

  • Improved sharing of information between the courts and the enforcement program.

"Better enforcement will mean more financial stability for families experiencing family breakdown," Justice Minister Mark Furey said in a news release. "We are committed to effective enforcement, better customer service and improved communication with families."

The changes mean it will now be mandatory for the courts to give the enforcement program contact information for both parties when it provides the maintenance order to the program.

For unclaimed payments, the program director will hold them for two years and try to reach the intended recipient. After that, the director will transfer the funds to the Finance Ministry. Previously, the director had to apply for an order to do that. 

He said 14,200 Nova Scotian families use the enforcement program to get their payments, and that 96 per cent of recipients are women.