Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 13, 2007
YELLOWKNIFE - The Government of the Northwest Territories is overhauling the Income Security program and increasing its annual budget by $5.9 million.
Some of the changes:
The program is also introducing a new incidental allowance for seniors and persons with disabilities, ranging from $37 a month in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilo to $75 in Paulatuk.
The incentive to work - the amount working clients can keep after receiving benefits - is currently $200 a month per individual and $400 a month per family. After Sept. 1, clients can also keep 15 per cent of any additional earnings. There will also be a new unearned exemption of $1,200 a year, meaning clients can receive up to $1,200 from another source, such as family or friends, without having benefits clawed back.
Government service centres will be established in Dettah, Gameti, Wekweeti, Enterprise, Fort Resolution, Kakisa, Lutsel K'e, Hay River Reserve, Jean Marie River, Nahanni Butte, Trout Lake, Wrigley, Tsiigehtchic, Sachs Harbour, and Colville Lake.
Income Security officers will become "client service officers" who will take a case management approach to connecting clients with programs and services.
Four new client service officer positions will be created.
One of the changes to income assistance is a reduction in benefits if clients don't participate in certain programs.
"We expect people to demonstrate their personal responsibility by participating in productive choices," said Charles Dent, minister of Education, Culture and Employment.
Education programs, medical treatment, counselling, community service work, and traditional lifestyles are all considered "productive choices." Clients who do not participate in "productive choices" will receive less assistance, said Dent.
The government will spend an extra $3.6 million in 2007 to implement the changes, which will come into effect Sept. 1.
Julie Thrasher, planning and management co-ordinator at the Inuvik Homeless Shelter and community advocate, was pleased to hear about the new $1,200 unearned exemption and the increased food allowance, but said she was "leery" about some of the other changes.
As someone who has been on income assistance and worked with many others on income assistance, Thrasher didn't think emphasizing "productive choices" would be effective in helping people become self-reliant - particularly if it's the client service officers deciding whether counselling or other choices are appropriate. Increased funding to housing and child care would be a better option, she said.
"People are frustrated when they feel like their lives are being controlled by Income Security," said Thrasher. "When you have a roof over your head and your children are taken care of, then you can get up in the morning and go look for a job or get an education."
Michael Cazon, justice co-ordinator at the Deh Cho Friendship Centre in Fort Simpson, was pleased to hear about the Income Security budget increase but he believes more needs to be done.
"I think it's overdue," he said. "It's a good beginning. I'm glad it's happening. But I would like to see it go up more."