Sask. NDP wants province to end pension claw backs for people with disabilities

The Minister of Social Services says people who have the "opportunity" to earn income — including Canada Pension Plan benefits — need to do that before accessing income assistance programs.

Social services minister says 'it all equals out in the end'

At a news conference with the NDP on Monday, May 17, 2022, Barb Sambasivam, who's brother is on SAID, says the program is "wholly inadequate." (Cory Herperger CBC/RADIO-CANADA )

Saskatchewan's opposition NDP is asking the Sask. Party government to end its practice of clawing back pensions for people living with disabilities.

The official opposition critic for social services, Meara Conway, was joined Monday at the Saskatchewan legislative building by disability, anti-poverty and mental health advocates.

Conway called on the government to end its practice of requiring people accessing the Saskatchewan Assured Income Disability (SAID) to apply early for the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

"They are then eligible for less later in life, and those amounts that they get for CPP before they turn 65 are clawed back from their SAID rates anyway," Conway said. 

"They are no further ahead. Indeed, they are further behind."

Currently in Saskatchewan, all income — whether earned or pension benefits —  impacts how much government assistance one can receive through programs like SAID.

Social Services Minister Lori Carr told reporters Monday that Saskatchewan's income assistance program is "truly a program of last resort."

"If you have the opportunity to earn income, one of those being your Canada pension benefits, then it's something you need to apply for before you apply for income assistance," Carr said.

When asked if that would hurt people financially down the line, the minister said: "it all equals out in the end."

The Manitoba government's practice of forcing people with disabilities to apply early for CPP was ruled discriminatory by a court in 2020.

Minister Carr told reporters Monday afternoon she hadn't heard of that case, and couldn't give comment. 

Family says SAID 'wholly Inadequate'

James MacLachlan lives with a degenerative disease known as mytonic dystrophy, and requires the help of a wheelchair. The 59-year-old worked for SARCAN recycling in Saskatoon for 20 years and lives in a care facility.

His sister, Barb Sambasivam, explained that prior to accessing SAID, her brother managed financially on his pension, long-term disability payments and monthly savings from his mother's estate.

When the latter ended in December 2021, the family thought they could apply for SAID to cover the $600 a month he is short on rent and care. Instead, the government awarded him $83 a month in SAID benefits.

"We think the SAID benefits are wholly inadequate for anyone trying to survive with a long-term disability," Sambasivam said. 

This past March, MacLachlan was able to successfully appeal the decision from the Ministry of Social Service to claw back his full CPP Disability and Long-term Disability Insurance from his time at SARCAN. 

Despite the ruling in his favour, the ministry's appeal board overturned the decision having found the practice was consistent with SAID policies — and that only the minister could exempt the income. 

We do think we are being fair.- Lori Carr, Minister of Social Services Saskatchewan

Minister Carr responded separately that while she can't get into the details of MacLachlan's file, the government "will work with him, on an individual basis."

"If there's other benefits he can qualify for over and above the basic allowance, such as the medical expenses and different things like that," she said. 

When asked directly whether she believed the SAID benefit was providing adequate assistance for those who access it, Carr deferred to Saskatchewan's standing among other jurisdictions.

"We are among the highest, in the top three, benefits given to individuals such as this," she said, without providing numbers. "We do think we are being fair."

Minister Carr said the province is in talks with the federal government on adjustments to disability funding. She noted once the federal programs are set, the province will look at possible adjustments to SAID.