Hello everyone, and thank you for coming out for our second screening of My Week on Welfare. (click)
My name is Tim Blades. In addition to being a BRAG member, I am also an occasional contributor to the Nova Scotia Advocate, which can be found at nsadvocate.org. nsadvocate.org also features an anonymous series called #LivesOnWelfare In that series, my name is John. (click)
There is a web address where you will be able to access the information mentioned in this speech, as well as my previous speech.
At the end of the evening, there will be time for those of you in our audience to share your stories or perhaps ask a question. We also invite you to discuss this event and share your stories on social media using the hashtags #RaiseTheRates, #FacesOfNSWelfare or #BenefitsReformAction. In addition, you can search for those same hashtags to view personal stories from people who live or have lived dealing with our welfare system. We also have displays set up featuring many of the #FacesOfNsWelfare stories. Also, be sure to follow us on Facebook. Facebook.com/BRAGns. (click)
As seen during Sherreace’s portion of the documentary, Employment Support and Income Assistance ( i.e. welfare) recipients do not get to keep a single cent of child support. 100% goes to the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services. As a welfare recipient, you have two options—You can sign over your payments to DCS, and your cheque will be unaffected. Payments can also be made to you, by the non-custodial parent. In this case, DCS will deduct 100% of the child support from your monthly cheque. (click)
Last year, I wrote an article about child support and the welfare system, with the help of Jackie Torrens. In the article, Jackie explains how DCS would deduct the money from her cheque, even when her ex didn’t pay. In cases like this, the welfare client must make attempts to procure payment from the non-custodial parent. This is not only a further financial burden for the parent; It can also put the welfare client in a position where they have to deal with an abusive ex. Jackie writes “It brought him more into my life and my baby’s life. We needed less of him, not more.” (click)
The child support clawback is not unique to Nova Scotia. This practice is found in almost every welfare system in Canada, the exceptions being BC and Ontario. When announcing the end of the clawback, the Ontario government (Liberals) stated that parents are more likely to pay child support if they know that their children will directly benefit from the money. In other words, they will pay their child support if they know the money goes to supporting their children. Ontario also states that combatting child poverty is vital to their economic plan to strengthen Ontario as a province. (click)
My answer to the child support issue is simple: end the child support clawback. Allow welfare clients to keep 100% of their child support. Allow child support to support children. Ending the clawback will pump 4 million dollars annually into our Nova Scotia economy. That is, on average, $167 a month per child on the system. That’s money for clothing, a school trip, or a birthday present. It could even fund a child’s special diet, since DCS doesn’t fund special diets for children.
Prior to our recent election, our Premier has promised to “enhance our Maintenance and Enforcement program to ensure parents entitled to child support get that support” If he is sincere, then our government MUST end the child support clawback for welfare recipients. Ending the clawback would also prevent situations like Jackie’s from happening.
First Voices and their supporters and advocates in BC and Ontario united, spoke up, and fought for what they believe in, and doing so resulted in a real, positive change. We can do the same here in Nova Scotia. I know we can, and BRAG stands united in that belief. (click)
On a personal level, I hope that many of you come away from tonight’s event with a better understanding of our welfare system, or perhaps even a better understanding of your own life. That might seem like a tall order, but just by writing articles and speeches, including this one, I have gained a better understanding of my own life. When it comes to the child support clawback, I have always maintained that I wasn’t a First Voice, because these policies didn’t affect me personally. I am not a single parent on welfare living 30-60% below the poverty line; I am not a father who wants to financially support his child, but has that right stripped away by a cold, cruel policy. Just a few weeks ago, I would say “I am just a guy speaking about something that upsets me.”
I now realize that I am a First Voice when it comes to this issue. I was a child on the system. I was a child with poor quality clothing, I was a child who struggled with food insecurity. I was a child who was made fun of because the teacher gave me something to eat. I was a child who at 10, 11, 12 years old would often think about and talk about suicide. “If you can’t eat, why bother living?” I would say at that time. My father left us when I was 5. He just disappeared. He vanished. He didn’t pay a dime of child support. I ask you to please realize that even if my father had paid child support, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference in my situation because of the child support clawback. In fact, my life would’ve been made worse because, just like Jackie’s ex, my father was abusive. Thankfully, I did not attempt to take my life, but I still struggle with depression to this day. I also had stomach ulcers as a child. The connection between poverty and physical/mental health is undeniable, even in children. I know this, because I was a child living in poverty. (click)
Perhaps what is most distressing is that food insecurity is only getting worse. Recently, Feed Nova Scotia reported that food bank usage has jumped 20.9% in the last year. Fifty-six percent of food bank users are welfare clients. Feed Nova Scotia receives $12,000 annually from the province of Nova Scotia, merely 1/3 of 1 percent of their annual operating budget. (click)
In the last fiscal year, the ESIA program recorded a surplus of 2.4 million dollars. That money was saved on the backs of people who are sick, starving, living in poor quality housing, with no transportation expense, or by forcing people off the welfare system for daring to better themselves. Situations similar to Sherreace’s are still happening. The Provincial governments recent budget revealed that there will be no increase in Income Assistance rates in the next year. A stagnant rate is as good as a decrease when you factor in inflation. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative reports that between healthcare, crime, and lost productivity, poverty costs Nova Scotians between 1.5 and 2.2 billion dollars annually. With that in mind, one has to wonder how much that 2.4-million-dollar surplus, coupled with the stagnant rate, will actually wind up costing us in terms of money and quality of life for our citizens. I know people who are literally dying while trying to exist on this punitive, paltry, cruel, broken system.
With everything we know about the effects and costs associated with poverty, ending the child support clawback and raising the welfare rates to an adequate, liveable level is the morally correct and fiscally responsible thing for our province to do. There is no doubt of that. (click)
Thank you. (click)