Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau column: One-time COVID Relief Benefit not enough

Inequality is a systemic issue, and it needs solutions that are also systemic.

By Sonia Furstenau

There has been an extraordinary amount of generosity this year. We can see it in the record-breaking donations to food banks here in Cowichan and across the province. In times of crisis, food banks have proven to be incredibly important for food security for individuals and families in our province. Our local food banks are serving a new type of client: people who have never used a food bank before. But what we need to be striving for, is a province that doesn’t need food banks because we have ended poverty.

COVID-19 has not only highlighted inequality in our society, but in many ways exacerbated it. Billionaires have seen their wealth increase, while people with the least have been more likely to lose their jobs and see their costs of living increase.

Inequality is a systemic issue, and it needs solutions that are also systemic. Unfortunately, what we are seeing from the newly elected majority NDP government are steps in the wrong direction.

In order to fulfill Premier John Horgan’s campaign promise, the NDP government brought the Legislature back for a two-week session in December to pass a bill that adds $2 billion in supplementary funds to the 2020-2021 budget.

According to the government, between $1.3 and $1.7 billion of those funds will be used to deliver the $1,000/household or $500/individual COVID benefit. While many people who need support through these difficult winter months will benefit from this one-time payment, the program has many flaws, including using 2019 income tax returns as the measure for qualifying for the benefit. For people who lost their jobs in 2020, and who need the extra support, they may qualify for significantly less, or not at all, based on their 2019 income. And for many, the requirement of multiple documents as part of the application process is proving to be stressful and challenging.

What was not mentioned during the election campaign was that the NDP would reduce by half the $300 COVID Emergency Benefit that has been provided to people on Income Assistance and Disability Assistance since March 2020. This has been an unwelcome surprise for many who are struggling to make ends meet during this very challenging year.

The BC Greens have advocated for the full $300/month to be made permanent, and for significant reforms to be made to Income and Disability Assistance programs in B.C., informed by the important research and work underway by the Basic Income Task Force, which will be releasing a report before the end of this year.

For too many people in B.C., the government programs that are supposed to lift people out of poverty are instead trapping them in poverty. The assistance rates are extremely low — well below the poverty line — and rather than incentivize people to seek additional income, the programs tend to be punitive. As soon as people earn even a modest amount of additional income, they are faced with clawbacks to income assistance and support programs.

When I asked the finance minister about how the COVID Benefit fits into the overall poverty-reduction strategies of her government, she replied that the COVID Relief Benefit is a “temporary, one-time” allocation of funds.

I would argue that this is an approach that does not serve the province in the long run. Had the government chosen to be strategic with its spending of these funds, they could have delivered measurable outcomes for people who need the most support in our province. Instead, the most vulnerable have to make do with less at a time when their costs will continue to rise.

There is a great deal of work to do to end the widening gap between rich and poor in B.C., and it should be a top priority of this new government. These first decisions are worrying, but if they are willing to listen to the recommendations of the Basic Income Task Force and truly recognize the shortcomings of the existing programs, it will be possible to take effective action on this front in the months and years to come.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

Column

Just Posted

Before you take on a pet, make sure you want to have it for life. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Editorial: A pet is a lifetime commitment

Tons of people are getting pets during the pandemic, some for the first time

Over 60 Indigenous youth from Qualicum to Malahat are participating in the Step Up Work Placement Program. (Submitted photo)
New Mid-Island Indigenous youth work placement program seeks employer partners

So far, more than 60 youth from Qualicum Beach to the Malahat are participating in the program

Sign of the times: this property on View Street in Chemainus that exp Realty’s Debbie Simmonds had listed at $599,000 sold for $650,000. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Real estate market continues to soar in the Chemainus area

Multiple offers on properties common, leading to sales above listing prices

North Cowichan to consider implementing a new policy on cell towers in the municipality. (File photo)
North Cowichan to consider cell tower policy

Rogers Communications proposal prompts North Cowichan to revisit policy on the structures

Cowichan Valley school district to get new electric-powered bus by the end of the school year. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley school district to get new electric-powered school bus

Bus one of 18 to be distributed across the province

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
BREAKING: Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Tinder, an online dating application that allows users to anonymously swipe to like or dislike other’s profiles. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. man granted paternity test to see if Tinder match-up led to a ‘beautiful baby’

The plaintiff is seeking contact with the married woman’s infant who he believes is his child

Nurse Tami Arnold prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. (Kareem Elgazzar/AP)
B.C. adults 30+ now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Health officials made the announcement Wednesday afternoon

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner Andrea Inness walks beside an enormous western red cedar stump in a BCTS-issued cutblock in the Nahmint Valley. (PHOTO COURTESY TJ WATT)
Watchdog: logging practices put Vancouver Island old growth, biodiversity at risk

Forest Practices Board has issues with BC Timber Sales practices in Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni

Erik Christian Oun, who worked for the Coquitlam school district, has had his teaching licence suspended for half a year. (Pixabay)
B.C. teacher suspended after calling students ’cutie’ and ‘sweetheart’ in online messages

Erik Oun’s licence has been suspended for half a year, a decision made by the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

Scenes like this one in the dugout are all too frequent for parents and kids arriving to play baseball at Nunns Creek Park these days, spurring a request to the city to let them move to the Sportsplex in Willow Point. Photo from CRMB presentation to City of Campbell River
Needles, feces and the unhoused send Island kids baseball program to greener pastures

Campbell River minor baseball program switches ballparks over growing safety concerns

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

Most Read