Premier Christy Clark's government announced a raise to disability assistance last week. But the increase is being seen as a way of making up for a controversial bus pass fee.

Premier Christy Clark's government announced a raise to disability assistance last week. But the increase is being seen as a way of making up for a controversial bus pass fee.

Disability rate increase criticized

The $50 raise is being tied to controversial changes made to a bus pass last year.

A provincial increase to disability assistance rates is being met with local skepticism.

The rate will rise $50 on April 1 from $983 to $1,033, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation on Friday. The change, which affects 107,000 people living with disabilities in B.C., will cost $199 million over three years.

But Rona Park, executive director of the Nelson Community Services Society, said the extra $50 will do little for the people who need help.

“[They] really struggle to make ends meet, just as much and more sometimes than people without disabilities who are on regular social assistance,” said Park. “To have any increase is great, but it’s still not enough.”

Park said the increase is tied to controversial changes the government made last year to disability assistance. The rate was increased $77 monthly in September, but $52 of that was deducted for the cost of a monthly bus pass. That essentially meant it was just a $25 increase.

The latest increase, Park said, only makes up for money that should have been there in the first place.

“They gave with one hand and took away with another,” said Park. “If they had moved simply with the increase last time as a straight-up increase and then not pulled back the bus pass money, that would have garnered some great support. That would have been a real increase of some value. … Having pulled the bus pass back, it looks weak.”

B.C. is the lone province without a poverty reduction plan. The province’s poverty rate of 13.2 per cent is the second highest in the country, according to a report published in January by the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall is the opposition critic for social development. She said all the announcement means is Premier Christy Clark is subtly backing off the bus pass change.

“”This year, what it means for people in terms of their pockets, is she is giving back only what she took away last year,” said Mungall, who added the NDP have promised to introduce a poverty reduction plan if elected.

“We’re seeing an end to the bus pass clawback today, but we’re not seeing a significant increase for people living with disabilities. They’re still living in poverty.”

Park said she has two relatives living in Calgary who rely on Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped. That program provides a maximum of $1,588 standard living allowance per month.

“They would love to move to British Columbia where the rest of their family now lives, but they can’t afford to lose the pension that they are getting in Alberta and come and live in B.C. …,” said Park. “They manage very well with that pension. They would never make it here.”