March 27, 2020 – For Immediate Release

Vancouver and Victoria – Legal advocacy groups are urgently calling for the provincial government to make legislative changes that would allow British Columbians who both work and receive disability or income assistance cheques to keep the new federal COVID benefits if they qualify, in an effort to protect some of BC’s most vulnerable workers. Without changes, the much needed federal benefits could end up going to the provincial government instead of into the pockets of the workers who qualify for them.

In a letter sent to Shane Simpson, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the five groups (Disability Alliance of BC, Community Legal Assistance Society, Atira Women’s Resource Society, Together Against Poverty Society, and First United Church Community Ministry Society) ask for an immediate response before the new COVID related benefits become available.

Under current legislation, a worker who is on provincial disability benefits can earn up to $12,000 a year in employment income and not have those earnings deducted from the amount they receive in benefits. The new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), introduced by the federal government for workers who have lost their employment due to COVID, has not yet been exempted by the provincial government for those workers on welfare or disability, meaning the amount received would be “clawed back” through deductions to future benefits cheques. The letter states:

“We are hearing that many high risk clients who receive income or disability assistance continue to work because, if they stop working, any EI or other federal emergency benefits they receive as compensation will be deducted from their welfare cheques. They continue working because they know they could not subsist on their Ministry benefits alone, which are well below the poverty line.”

The letter to Minister Simpson, which can be read full here, also calls for increases to the availability of crisis supplements for Ministry clients related to the COVID pandemic, and asks for any welfare benefits that someone may receive while waiting for the federal or provincial benefits to arrive not be made repayable, as again this would limit the effectiveness of the federal program and place some of the most vulnerable workers at risk.

As of yet the provincial government has not indicated what their intention will be, and whether or not they will be making changes to the legislation to allow workers on welfare and disability to receive COVID related benefits.

Vancouver Contact: 
Amber Prince
Staff Lawyer
Atira Women’s Resource Centre
cell: (604) 908-0048, email: [email protected]

Victoria Contact: 
Douglas King
Executive Director
Together Against Poverty Society
cell: (778) 898-6349, email: [email protected]