People on income assistance in B.C. will now automatically receive COVID recovery benefit

Disability advocates say change comes months too late for people waiting for financial help.

VANCOUVER, February 23, 2021 -- Helaine Boyd, co-executive director of Disability Alliance B.C. comments on the fact that people on income assistance now automatically receiving the COVID recovery benefit instead of having to apply, in Vancouver, BC., on February 23, 2021. (NICK PROCAYLO/PNG) 00063892A ORG XMIT: 00063892A [PNG Merlin Archive]

People on income assistance will now automatically receive the B.C. recovery benefit instead of having to apply, a course reversal by the NDP government which critics say comes months too late.

This month, the benefit will automatically be paid to people on income, disability or hardship assistance and those receiving the senior’s supplement as long as they were receiving assistance in December 2020 or January 2021, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction said in a stakeholder letter to Disability Alliance B.C.

Helaine Boyd, co-executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said advocacy groups had been calling for the change for months as people on income assistance faced barriers around providing 2019 tax returns or bank account information.

Boyd said she’s glad money will now flow to people who were desperately waiting for it. “But there wasn’t prior warning and it came in two months after the fact,” she said. “It will probably cause confusion among clients.”

The recovery benefit will be paid to approximately 107,000 people on income assistance who had either not yet applied or were still waiting for their funds, according to the Ministry of Finance. Benefits for an additional 18,000 people are still being processed because the ministry needs more information to determine eligibility.

About 86,000 people on income assistance had already applied online and were approved. A total of 215,000 people receive income assistance, disability assistance, or senior’s supplement in the province.

B.C. Liberal finance critic Mike Bernier said people on income assistance should not have had to face months of stress before receiving the benefit.

“This emotional and financial roller coaster that the government is putting them on is creating so much anxiety and confusion,” Bernier said. “It could have helped them at Christmas time when it was promised to help them.”

Up until last week, the government “had every excuse known to man” as to why it couldn’t automatically give the benefit to people on income assistance. Yet over the weekend, the government quietly started notifying people about the change.

The benefit will be paid out at the end of February on top of individuals’ monthly income assistance payment and in the same manner they receive that payment such as direct deposit, cheque or in-person pickup. The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction already has a system for providing payments to people who don’t have a bank account, Boyd said.

Applications opened on Dec. 18 and the government promised that most people would see the money in their bank account before Christmas. Boyd said many on income assistance applied only because of the help of a family member or advocate.

The program gives a one-time $1,000 payment to households with an annual income of $125,000 or less or $500 to individuals with an annual income of less than $62,500. The Ministry of Finance said more than 2 million people have received the recovery benefit and 250,000 applications are still being reviewed.

Many have been frustrated that the recovery benefit is issued to people based on their 2019 income, which doesn’t take into account people who lost income in 2020 during the pandemic. Disability advocates are also calling on the government to increase income assistance and disability payments, which are currently $760 and $1,183 a month, respectively, and extend the $150-a-month COVID recovery top-up for people on assistance which is set to expire in March.

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