Income assistance frozen

Department of Community Services cuts back on annual raise for low-income Nova Scotians

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The province has given a cold shoulder to those struggling with low-income, freezing an annual increase in the personal allowance received by anyone on income assistance.

That allowance has seen an increase every July 1 for the last four years, rising by 22 per cent since 2010. That’s now stalled while the Liberal government conducts a "comprehensive review."

"You don't have to be an economist to know if there isn't an increase, it's effectively a cut," says community activist and Solidarity Halifax member Evan Coole.

Only an extra $47 per month increase over the last four years, the raise might not seem like much. But for those receiving income assistance, every dollar counts.

"That extra few bucks could be a meal of your choosing. It could be a bus trip," says Coole. "That's what's really frustrating in this."

The freeze was expected since the spring, when the Liberal government and the Department of Community Services began their still-underway comprehensive review.

According to an email from DCS spokesperson Elizabeth MacDonald, that review will produce "a number of measures that will improve the IA program as a whole." MacDonald wasn't able to mention any specific improvements in a follow-up call.

“They don't even know what the recommendations are going to be,” she says.

For Coole’s part, he says he can appreciate bureaucratic complexities, but expected better communication about the freeze from the province.

"If I was the minister right now, I probably wouldn't know how to fix it...but to not communicate it when these increases have been coming steadily over the last few years, it's concerning.”

According to the Department of Community Services, as of June 30 there's 11,111 cases of income assistance in Halifax, equalling approximately 14,000 people.

Since coming to power, there have been several initiatives by the Liberal government to provide expanded support to low-income Nova Scotians, including loosening the eligibility rules for the NS Child Benefit and increasing the Senior Citizens Assistance Program.

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