Saskatchewan. govt. Defends Income Assistance, Rejects Paid Sick Leave Talk

The Saskatchewan government is defending its social income support program and stance on paid sick leave after opposition calls for changes.

On Thursday, Opposition Social Services Critic Meara Conway argued again that the government should scrap its Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program,

Conway’s request is not new. SIS is a common concern for income assistance clients, landlords and anti-poverty advocates. Rallies and marches have taken place since clients were transferred to SIS from other income support programs last August.

Those advocating for change have identified two problems with the SIS: rent no longer goes directly to landlords and the amount provided is not enough to cover rent and utilities.

They argued that these changes lead to homelessness.

On Thursday, Conway featured two single parents facing those challenges.

Frank Francouer, a single father of two, told the media that he received an eviction notice and packed up his things without knowing where he will be going at the end of the month.

“I had no problem with the [social assistance program] as it has been structured with Regina Housing [Authority]. The SIS is a nightmare. It really is a nightmare.”

Francouer said that when the changes were made, his rent through the Regina Housing Authority went up and he was forced into arrears, leading to eviction.

He said he paid his bills on time and didn’t realize the almost $200 increase in the cost of rent when he switched to the new program last year.

He said the cost of rent and utilities was eating up his housing allowance, leaving him to dip into his food and expense allowances to cover the cost of his utilities.

Francoeur said he was on a budget and dependent on the food bank.

Kelly Anderson, a single mother, joined Francouer as an opposition guest and said before SIS she had enough money to get by.

“I had my utilities paid. My rent was paid. If I couldn’t afford the groceries I needed. There was the food bank, there were other alternatives, but Now I can’t even afford to pay my bills.”

She said she was worried that an eviction notice might come in her future and that she might suffer a power outage because she didn’t have enough money to pay her bills.

“When I called [SaskPower] I thought to myself, do I take the $100 for my income tax refund and put it on my bill or do I go to a tent alone because I might need to live there. “

The government has made some changes to the SIS. In November, it provided direct payment of rent and utilities to clients with high needs and at risk of homelessness.

In this year’s budget, the government increased basic benefits by $30 per month and housing benefits by $25 per month.

On average, an adult living in Regina or Saskatoon could receive up to $600 per month for housing and utilities, and an additional $315 per month for food and all other expenses – although the amount each person receives is determined on a case-by-case basis. base and the situation of the person are re-examined each month.

On Thursday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer defended the government’s handling of SIS and said government officials would meet with Francoeur and Anderson to discuss their situation.

“It’s a last resort income assistance program. There are always customers, I know that as a minister [of social services] in the past, it may have a change in circumstances and may not understand the change in the program.”

Harpauer said the number of people on income assistance “fluctuates” with the economy and will depend on the jobs available in a jurisdiction.

She said the government compares its welfare programs to those of other provinces and said what it offers is “among the highest”, while the province also has one of the cost of living the lowest.

Last month, a rally and march was held in Regina by people demanding changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program. The opposition wants the program scrapped. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

Harpauer said the government is constantly reviewing its program and that’s why it increased funding in the last budget.

Saskatchewan, like almost all other provinces, does not link its assistance programs to inflation. Quebec and New Brunswick do.

Conway said current inflation pressures only exacerbate existing problems with the SIS.

She would like the utility benefit to be separated from the rental benefit and all amounts to be increased.

“It’s not enough and we said from the beginning that a dollar a day is not enough. It does not make up for the difference in cuts that the SIS represented.”

Conway said the previous program replaced by SIS hadn’t seen a “significant increase” since 2006.

“Think of the increase in the cost of living since 2006, not to mention the recent increase in the cost of living due to inflation and the affordability crisis. It’s mind-boggling. It’s cruel.”

Conway said Francouer received more because he was a single parent with two children, and even though he lived in subsidized housing, he was still at risk of eviction.

“It’s impossible. No amount of budgeting, no amount of effort can get people to make ends meet,” Conway said.

Govt. vote against paid sick leave bill

The opposition also called on the government on Thursday to change Saskatchewan’s jobs law to provide paid sick leave for workers.

On Thursday, University of Saskatoon MLA Jennifer Bowes introduced a private member’s bill calling for 10 days of paid sick leave a year.

The bill was rejected by members of the government on Thursday morning as union representatives looked on from the podium.

Before the vote, Bowes argued that taxpayers cover MPs’ sick leave and workers in the province should have the same coverage.

“More than half of Saskatchewan workers don’t have paid sick days. That’s way more than minimum wage workers.”

Bowes said paid leave would keep workers healthy, reduce turnover and improve working conditions, and wouldn’t affect profitability much.

Before the vote, Labor Secretary Don Morgan indicated that the government was not in favor of paid sick leave.

“We value the work that our employees do in both the public and private sectors and we want to make sure they are properly compensated, so we have introduced a change to the minimum wage.”

Earlier this month, the government announced that the minimum wage would increase to $13 an hour in October and an additional $1 in each of the next two years.

“We want to make sure we don’t have too many other things that are creating an additional burden on employers coming out of the pandemic,” Morgan said.

Morgan said there are other benefit programs people can access depending on their circumstances.

He said he hoped the federal government would continue to provide its Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which expired May 7 as well as other federal COVID-19 benefit programs.

“I don’t know why they would do this. COVID is not over. The pandemic is something that we will now learn to live with. It’s an ongoing thing. I don’t know how many people in the [press] gallery had it, but most of us had a bad week,” Morgan said.

Morning Edition – Saskatchewan9:12Policy Panel – May 13

The Prime Minister has been touring the world this week, showcasing Saskatchewan products to audiences in the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, back home, there are questions about the government’s control of the legislature, and a new political party may be about to take hold. Is this a spring of renewal in the province, or the fallout from a winter of discontent? Joining Ted Deller in this week’s political panel are Leader Post columnist Murray Mandryk and CBC Saskatchewan provincial affairs reporter Adam Hunter.