Report highlights issues with Sask. Assured Income for Disabilities program
Report raises 6 main concerns, from money to supports
A new report is highlighting issues with the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disabilities program (SAID).
The Saskatchewan Disability Income Support Coalition (DISC) interviewed 11 people on their personal experiences and had 432 respond to an online survey. The respondents included 188 people on SAID and 244 people representing organizations that help people on the program.
It issued the report a few weeks after holding an event calling for the SAID program to become an election issue.
"There is kind of a misnomer that if you have enduring and significant disability in this province, that quite a lot of resources and money is there for you. Whereas with all the cuts that have happened, most people with significant injuries and disabilities are living under the poverty level," said Rebecca Rackow, director of Advocacy Research and Public Policy Development at the Canadian Mental Health Association, Sask. Division.
Rackow worked on the report, which was done with the help of the University of Regina and the Community Engagement and Research Centre.
SAID was created in 2008 by the provincial government to be an income replacement program for people with significant and enduring disabilities. Rackow said the report highlights cuts to the program, including a housing supplement, special diet allowance and transportation allowance.
Six main issues highlighted: DISC
Several consistent issues were identified, but the report narrowed them down to six:
- Problems in consistency and training of income specialists.
- The program does not allow people to fully participate in their community since the income provided doesn't cover all the costs of having a disability for all people.
- The provincial government does not adequately consider providing housing that accommodates the needs of persons with disabilities.
- There are not enough accessible transportation options to meet the needs of all of Saskatchewan residents with disabilities.
- Some recipients had difficulty handling money and there is not enough help on how to pay bills.
- There are problems with overpayment recovery rates, meaning when someone is overpaid the recovery rate can create problems for people.
One main concern is that the income doesn't cover all the costs of having a significant or enduring disability, Rackow said.
"By the time rent is paid and meds are paid and bills are paid, there's very little left to incorporate things … like a special mattress someone might need or mobility aid that somebody might need," Rackow said. "The cost of disability is not considered in the payment."
There is also no extra money for a coffee with friends or to visit family, leading to people being isolated, she said. Rackow said people are grateful for the program, but the quality of life on it has been slowly lowering with cuts and time.
Dave Nelson, who was on the team that developed SAID, said it was meant to be a long term solution for people with disabilities — not an income support program like the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP). Nelson is also the senior program consultant at the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Nelson said people can typically get about $1,250 a month, but that's not enough when inflation has increased the price of everything from rent to groceries.
"It was operating with dignity and respect and not having to operate in abject poverty. Anybody who's living on $1,250 a month, including the rent, is considerably below the poverty line," Nelson said.
Nelson said the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) replacing a minimum wage workers' income at $2,000 a month demonstrated how much people should be getting.
"Isn't it interesting that those people, most of them, do not have an ongoing and serious disability which has this extra cost," Nelson said. "The way that people are treated is not the way that it should be, nor the way that it kind of started out."
Nicole de Gooijer knows the difficulty of penny pinching very well. She's been on the SAID program since March 2020, after being on the SAP program for a couple of years.
De Gooijer had a workplace injury in 2014 that resulted in a disability that causes pain, headaches and more. She can occasionally work, unless her symptoms become too severe and she needs to stop. Getting on SAID helped, as she now receives $1,129 a month, compared to $824 on SAP.
"It's still very slim to live on, but I can budget with it. Realistically, that was incredibly stressful and my condition is affected by stress and financial stress definitely impacted my condition," she said.
Because her condition is invisible, it took time to get diagnosed and she faces stigmas when she tells people, de Gooijer said. She said she even ran into issues when applying for SAID because she was told she'd be accepted "if" she had a disability.
She has tried to work while on it, but cannot always maintain consistent hours because of her painful disability, she said. So she needs to rely on the program for her entire living costs.
"I budget every cent. I record everything I spend," she said. "If I didn't have that skill, I would be in a lot of trouble."
De Gooijer said her rent is 67 per cent of her monthly income and sometimes she has to be extra resourceful.
"I have gone to the food bank on occasions when needed, but even though you can only go once every 14 days, there are times when I relied on family to ensure that I'm eating properly," she said. "I'm grateful for [them] because it prevents me from becoming homeless. It's a very different lifestyle than I was able to lead prior to developing a disability."
De Gooijer said when CERB was announced, she was surprised by some of her friends.
"I have friends stressed to be living on $2,000 a month, to which I replied 'To me, that would be luxury.'"
De Gooijer said she didn't used to know the troubles people with disabilities faced. It was easy to not be aware of things that didn't affect her at the time, she said. Now she hands out pamphlets that explain her situation and what's happened to others in her community.
In the future, de Gooijer said she hopes people consider a universal basic income, better training and consistency for workers. She hope to get better and slowly be able to work more and be part of the community at large.
DISC and the Canadian Mental Health Association had been pushing for people to make SAID funding an election issue. Rackow said she believes it hasn't happened because it hasn't been resolved in the past few years.
"Rather than highlight the fact that they're not going to be fixing that, they choose to ignore that as an election issue," Rackow said. "I think that the more aware the public is of how we treat folks with significant and enduring disabilities, the more the public will demand that it become an election issue."
The provincial election is on Oct. 26.