The Nelson Committee on Homelessness (NCOH), along with over 150 organizations from around the province have signed on an open letter released by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition calling for changes to the Provincial bus pass rates and transportation program for people living in poverty.
The Province plans on increasing the disability benefits by $77 a month, but Ann Harvey of the NCOH said that for a person on a disability benefit needing bus transportation, the actual rate increase is only $11 or $25 a month.
“The provincial government has given with one hand and taken with another with their changes to provincial transportation program funding,” Harvey said.
Despite growing issues with homelessness and poverty in both Nelson and the province as a whole, assistance rates have remained at $610/month for an individual without disabilities and $906/month for a person with a disability since 2007. This amount of money has to cover a variety of costs, including housing, utility, food, health, and clothing costs.
According to the NCOH, disability assistance rates in BC are among the lowest in Canada and BC is also the only province to have no poverty-reduction plan.
A key issue being presented by the NCOH and other signatories to the letter is the cost of transportation, especially relevant to people who are faced with increasing housing and rent costs being forced to live outside of town.
“Previously, people on disability assistance could count on their bus transportation for a year with one payment for an annual bus pass,” Harvey said.
“Now every month this at-risk population will face a decision of “Can I afford it this month?”
"Given such a stagnant low rate of assistance, many people with disabilities may choose rent or food over a bus pass. These changes will leave them more vulnerable to isolation, to complications arising from missed health and support service appointments, and potentially to compromised health.”
As it stands, The BC Bus Pass Program currently offers an annual bus pass at a reduced cost of $45 per year for disability assistance recipients using BC Transit. The planned changes to the system would up that amount to $52 a month for a bus pass, or $66 a month for the Special Transportation Subsidy.
Multiple anti-poverty organizations are voicing their opposition to these changes, and the people with disabilities that are truly affected are not pleased either.
“Well, I think that it really is endangering people’s lives because I feel that, given a choice between using the increase to buy food or a bus pass, most of us are going to do without a bus pass,” said Bernie Brown of Balfour.
“I think the $77 increase and leaving the bus pass status quo would have been much preferred, it makes sense for people with disabilities, people from out of town that need medical appointments and even just to do our everyday shopping and routines,” she said.
Brown said that she thinks the “paltry amount” ($375) people with disabilities are given for shelter does not reflect any kind of reality of what people have to pay for rent, whether on disability or not.
In a press release, the NCOH outlined what changes they would like to see to the plan that would accurately assist with the financial burden facing people with disabilities.
Bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities;
- Eliminate the new $52/month bus pass fee
- Allow everyone receiving disability (PWD) benefits to keep the $77/month increase
- Bring back the Special Transportation Subsidy, and introduce a rural transportation system for those living outside the area where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate; and
- Raise income and disability assistance significantly by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living, and then index to inflation.