A request for a review of the eligibility criteria for social assistance in New Brunswick
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Currently, in the province of New Brunswick, those receiving Social Assistance are only allowed to have one cheque per household unless you qualify for certain exemptions. In most cases this is not an issue unless you happen to be a single person and want to share an apartment with someone who is not receiving an assistance cheque. Under these circumstances, the following rule applies:
"An Economic Household is defined as two or more persons residing together who share the responsibilities of the household and benefit economically from the sharing of food, shelter and/or facilities. When an Economic Household is determined to exist, Social Development will consider it one household, and therefore determine eligibility for only one assistance cheque.
Social Development determines economic households to exist even though there is no marital, familial, or conjugal relationship among the members of the household. This policy was developed in order to ensure people are not discriminated on the basis of gender, marital status or sexual orientation. The determination of an economic household will often result in assistance being refused, cancelled or decreased, depending on the particular circumstances.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE ECONOMIC HOUSEHOLD POLICY INCLUDE:
Adult Child With Income
Blind, Deaf or Disabled
Elderly Parent(s) Living with Their Adult Child (Children)
Transitional Assistance Clients (including Single Employable) In Their Parental - Home
Unless one happens to qualify for an exemption as listed above, then all adults in the home are REQUIRED TO APPLY for assistance, regardless of their individual need to to so and the eligibility and amount the applicants will receive will depend on the total household income. This is a fair requirement where two people who are in a relationship is concerned, but in the case where it is two or more individuals who are unable to afford acceptable housing on their own, this forces the person who is working to become financially responsible for anyone in the household who is for any reason unable to find work.
In today's economy, jobs that pay a living wage are difficult to find, especially for young people who are just starting out. According to Statistics Canada, the average rent for a bachelor apartment in New Brunswick was $487 in 2016 and $563 for a one bedroom with the lowest rents in Bathurst and the highest in Fredericton. A two bedroom was $685 on average in 2016 with the lowest in Edmundston and, once again, the highest in Fredericton. A single person is entitled to a maximum benefit rate of $537.00 a month, making a one bedroom out of the question and most bachelor apartments too expensive as well as, on average, that would leave $50 for all other expenses for the month. The waiting time for subsidized housing for a single person in NB is measured in years. This leaves sharing accommodations as the only real alternative yet the regulations currently in place do not allow for this option in most cases if there is someone in the household who has a job. For example, if two people who decide to split an apartment with rent and utilities being the sole expense that is shared, Social Development says they must apply as a household and the household is entitled to a maximum of $903. If resident A is working, (s)he is required to report their income of which 70% of everything over $150 will be deducted from the $903. Let's assume Resident A works 37.5 hours a week at minimum wage, currently $11.00 per hour. This would give them a net income of approximately $696 after taxes every two weeks or around $1491 per month (30 day average). The wage exception is $150 + 30% of the net income, in this case roughly $523 which means $938.70 will be deducted from the $903 the household is entitled to have, making them ineligible for a cheque as the allowable wages would exceed the entitlement.
For another example, let's assume Resident A only works part time, 22.5 hours per week with a net pay of $460 every two weeks or $985 (30 day average). In this case the Wage exception is $400.50 This means that $584.50 will be deducted from the $903, leaving a cheque of $318.50, leaving Resident A to pick up the $218.50 shortfall that Resident B would have been able to contribute if (s)he were considered an individual person and eligible for the $537 (s)he would get if living alone.
For all intents and purposes, this boils down to the Department of Social Development forcing the working member of the household to assume responsibility for all or part of the $537 that Resident B would otherwise have been entitled to receive "even though there is no marital, familial, or conjugal relationship among the members of the household".
The purpose of this clause is obviously intended as an attempt to prevent people who are in a relationship and are fully supporting each other from receiving funds they would otherwise not be entitled to receive, however, it fails to allow for the reality of today's rental market and unfairly forces those who are fortunate enough to have employment to discriminate against friends who are not as fortunate.
The Province of New Brunswick needs to either eliminate this restriction, improve the access to affordable housing, or raise the amount of assistance to which a person is entitled to reflect the reality that pertains today. The Gallant Government has pledged to increase minimum wage in step with inflation, and, since 2013 minimum wage has increased from $10 to $11 per hour - an increase of 10% yet social assistance rates have remained the same since October 1, 2013 while living expenses have continued to increase. In 2013, the average rent in NB was $458 for a bachelor apartment and $540 for a one bedroom. In 2016, these had increased to $487 and $563, respectively, increases of 6.33% and 4.25%. Social Assistance should not be, and is not intended to be, a program where one can live comfortably, but it should provide for an existence that is survivable with provisions for basic housing and the necessities of life such as food, clothing, and hygiene. The province should be encouraging people to share expenses rather than erecting obstacles.
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