Sask. government extends timeline for social services program changes

The province has dropped its Sept. 1 deadline for enforcing changes to social assistance supplement programs that will reduce benefits for about 2,700 people.

Province says it will meet with all 2,700 affected clients individually

Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer, whose department will extend the timeline for enforcing changes to social assistance supplement programs. (CBC)

The province has dropped its Sept. 1 deadline for enforcing changes to social assistance supplement programs that will reduce benefits for about 2,700 people. 

The province said it was slowing down the process so that all 2,700 clients would have time to meet and discuss their cases with Social Services individually.

"It will likely take several months for all clients affected to be accommodated," said provincial spokesperson Kathy Young. 

Earlier this week, individuals relying on supplemental social assistance started receiving letters saying they would no longer be receiving extra living income benefits beyond the standard living income benefits.

In a statement forwarded by provincial officials Thursday, people who had concerns about the changes expressed appreciation for the government's move.

"I want to commend minister Harpauer for her announcement," Merv Bender, chairman of the program implementation advisory team for the Saskatchewan assistance program, known as SAID, said. "The news of the changes was difficult for people."

Program changes

Effective Sept. 1, the government will end the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement's practice of grandfathering benefits for families with children aged 13 and over.

The government said it would also end the practice of exempting Seniors Income Plan and Guaranteed Income Supplement top-up benefits in the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) and the Saskatchewan Assured Income Disability (SAID) program. 

It will also simplify the provision of Transition benefits for children under SAP and SAID when families are not receiving the Canada Child Benefit.

'Cruel' and 'abhorrent' 

Speaking to CBC News this week, people affected by the change described the decision as "cruel" and "abhorrent". 

"I mean, there has to be other savings they can find to fix their deficit, and not come after us. I mean, that's just as low as it gets as far as I'm concerned," said Mike Harding, who is a recipient of the SAID program.  

The government said it needed to streamline the programs to make them fair and equitable, because some clients were currently receiving triple rental supplements from different programs. 

In Thursday's statement, after the government announced the slowing down of the implementation of its changes, Bender said he understands why the province was making adjustments but noted that people were stressed out over them.

"There are sound reasons for the changes being made," Bender said. "It is necessary to protect the integrity of the program, to ensure that the people on SAID are those with significant and enduring disabilities, as was our original vision for the program. We want to see consistency in the supports clients receive, and we want this program to be sustainable into the future."

He also said he expected officials will "work with each client on an individual basis to work through their benefits" adding that such support "will be critical".

'Cold-hearted' move, NDP says

The Opposition NDP called on the province to reverse the changes altogether and apologize to people for the stress they experienced.

"By delaying the cuts, the Sask. Party has clearly realized the damage they are doing to Saskatchewan's most vulnerable people by slashing supports through the SAID program," Nicole Rancourt, the NDP's critic for social services, said in a statement Thursday. "The Sask. Party's latest cold-hearted decision to force people who are unable to work due to a disability to pay for their economic mismanagement needs to be reversed."