Thank you to our allies at the Federation of Community Social Services of BC, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Surrey Board of Trade for their quick analysis of BC Budget 2019 this week.
As the CCPA notes in its analysis, the government is clearly taking action to reduce poverty, homelessness and growing income inequality. But with years of neglect and slow action, there remains much more to do.
It’s encouraging to see urgent social concerns being recognized. However, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition noted in its response to the budget that government could have – and should have – gone much farther in increasing income assistance rates.
“Given the significant surpluses budgeted of $274 million, $287 million and then $585 million over the next three years, as well as the forecast allowances and contingency funds, we have the fiscal room to provide a much bigger increase to welfare and disability assistance rates. There is no reason to keep people struggling to survive at these shockingly low rates,” says Trish Garner of the BCPRC.
There’s also more evidence that government is starting to hear Board Voice on the importance of a provincial social policy strategy. Not that one was announced in this budget, but separate strategies are now underway for specific social challenges – poverty, homelessness, mental health/addictions. We can only take that as a positive sign that we’re moving closer to one overarching policy that incorporates all those elements and more to guide social strategy, priorities and investments in our communities
Here are the budget highlights relevant to our sector and communities:
- A new BC Child Opportunity Benefit, to take effect in October 2020. It will give families with incomes below $94,000 up to $1,600 a year per child up to the age of 17, to a maximum of $3,400 per household. The benefit won’t be clawed back from those on income assistance, and is a significant increase from the existing $660 maximum child benefit currently available only until children turn six.
- Increased financial support for children in foster care, including increasing funds available for extended family caregivers to equal the regular amount that any foster parent receives.
- Increased compensation for home-share providers funded by CLBC.
- Income-assistance rates increase by $50 a month. That’s a start, though the CCPA notes that benefits for single, employable individuals are still less than 50 per cent of the poverty line.
- $74 million over three years for a better-coordinated child and youth mental health system that Finance Minister Carole James says will help families “ask once to get help fast.” The plan is for a program to fund prevention and early intervention through specialized teams of educators, counsellors, experts, etc at one-stop-shop facilities, online and more. We’d expect this funding to be targeted for the Foundry initiative.
- Interest-free BC student loans – good news for low-income students who don’t have the support of family to help them acquire a post-secondary education.
- New revenue-sharing agreements for BC First Nations to invest in priorities to support their community. Keep an eye on this one, says the CCPA, which will provide $297 million over 3 years but has yet to be fleshed out.
- Another 200 modular homes for people living homeless to be built along with the 2,000 that were announced last year.
- Commitment to a new province-wide homelessness strategy. With plans now in place for provincial strategies around homelessness, poverty reduction and mental health/addiction, this is a great time to continue our advocacy for social policy that guides future investments and priorities. Poverty, homelessness, mental health, childcare, seniors’ supports, healthy communities – all of those and more would be elements to be included under the broad social policy framework that Board Voice has been urging government adopt for years.
- $18 million to ensure Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning remain free and accessible for people looking to upgrade their skills and get ahead.
- $21 million to expand BC Transit and handyDART services to help people safely commute in over 30 urban and rural communities in the province.
Stay tuned for more updates as details emerge on budget announcements.