Rare break for income earners a start
By Paul Gowan
People in the disability community received $100 worth of good news from
the B.C. government last spring when the earnings exemption for those on
disability income assistance rose by that amount.
On April 1, 2003, persons with a disability in
BC became eligible to earn up to $400 a month in addition to their basic
disability assistance payment of $786. One year earlier, in April 2002,
the provincial government increased the exemption amount from $200 to
Richard Chambers, Director of Communications for
the B.C. Health Ministry, stated recently that the ministry is
supportive of persons with disabilities making the effort to leave their
residences, be part of the community and participate as much as they
"We want to encourage as much as possible
people with disabilities to participate, either through employment
opportunities or through paid volunteer opportunities, in the
workforce," he told the Disability News.
Due to personal circumstances, some people with
disabilities find it possible to work only part-time. The extra $100
provides an incentive for them in this direction, Chambers noted.
Paul Tubbe, chair of the advisory committee on
disability issues at Vancouver City Hall and a paraplegic, said the $400
is a first-step along the path to independence for people with
He said it has allowed people to explore some
part-time employment or contract work they might not otherwise have
tried, whether for an employer or for themselves.
"It's part of the solution as an entry
strategy for people returning or entering the workforce," said
Tubbe. "It's good for people re-entering the workforce to have
supports in place while they are building a career."
Margaret Birrell, executive director of the B.C.
Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD), outlined her
organization's position on the exemption increase by saying,
"Anything that assists people with disabilities to live a more
independent life has been our long term goal."
But BCCPD advocacy access director Jane Dyson
called the basic assistance rate of $786 a month that people with
disabilities receive, "woefully inadequate."
"Seven hundred and eighty-six dollars a
month is not anywhere near enough money for people to live (on),"
Eric Molendyk at the Disability Foundation's
resource centre said, "Obviously, $400 is better than $200. And
it's some motivation to say, well, you know, I can work, I can take
shifts. It gives people more wiggle room."
Is an extra $100 the answer? "No,"
said Tubbe. " He said the medical and rehabilitation costs of
having a disability still create barriers for people trying to enter the
workforce. People with disabilities worry that if they work too much,
they will be excluded from essential medical coverage or have their
disability status removed.
"If we are readying people to assume the
majority of financial responsibility for their lives, then we need to
set more realistic guidelines and an incremental approach," Tubbe
said. More incentives are needed to get people over the barriers.
At $786 per month, British Columbia now has the
fourth highest rate of disability income assistance in Canada, after
Ontario, Alberta and Quebec. Persons not considered disabled, but who
demonstrate "persistent multiple barriers to employment" -
such as drug, alcohol or other medical problems - receive $608 a month,
compared with the base assistance rate of $510.