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 $300.

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 can.

"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 disabilities.

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)," she said.

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.


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