The 2015-16 Saskatchewan budget includes cuts to many much-needed programs, like the Graduate Retention program, the Active Families Benefit, and the Seniors’ Drug Plan. One of the programs that saw the biggest cuts was something else entirely: the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement.
The supplement is a monthly payment that gives support to low-income Saskatchewan families. Meant to add extra income to underpaid work or family support payments, the supplement had a few conditions. The amount paid out to each family varied, according to three factors: the age of the family’s children, the amount of the household’s income, and the amount of children under 18 years old in the family.
After today’s budget, those conditions have changed. From now on, families seeking supplement money will only receive money for children 12 years and younger.
“All that we’ve changed, quite frankly, is we’re recognizing that the child care expenses are predominantly a move for children over the age of 13,” said Donna Harpauer, Saskatchewan’s minister of social services.
To Harpauer, the program’s changes are minimal, and previous recipients of supplement cash will not be affected. “We won’t be giving additional dollars for any children under the age of 13. Anyone that was in the program before, that has a child in that age group, is being grandfathered in, so no one will see a reduction.”
However, not everyone at the Legislative Building felt the same way about the change. While families with supplements are being grandfathered into the changed new program, the change in maximum age rules will obstruct people in need in the future.
“This is a hard hit to families that are working incredibly hard to get by. This provided just a little bit of help to take care of some of the basics, and allow families to transition from social assistance, in through training up, and into meaningful employment,” says Trent Wotherspoon, deputy leader of the opposition and the NDP’s urban affairs critic. “This is a really regressive move, it’s one that hits families hard, and it’s certainly shortsighted in its approach.”
“A budget is about choices, and we still think there’s record support for the vulnerable, for low-income people, for disabled people in this province. Record support, and that has not changed with this budget,” said Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. On the other side was NDP MLA David Forbes, who said, “We think this is really a short-sighted cut. It’s a program that allows for a lot of benefits, including a gateway to health care benefits.”
Forbes, who serves as the NDP’s social services critic, said the SES changes will hurt families in need of higher-paying work. “We think this is really going to have an impact on families who are in challenging times, particularly now when we see the low price of oil, and we know that’s impacting the workplace and those who have low-income or low-paying jobs are really going to have some challenges,” he said.
“We are concerned about any cut to the SES program, especially at a time when we’re tied for the lowest minimum wage nationally. Having that supplement top people up is something that’s been very important for low-income families,” said Peter Gilmer, a Regina anti-poverty advocate.
Gilmer and his group, the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, work in Regina to help underprivileged and impoverished people to a new way of life.
Gilmer said he and the RAPM were surprised by the changes to the supplement. “We’re concerned that there’s way too many low-income families who aren’t able to meet their needs, their needs to housing, child care, etc. The employment supplement cut came as a surprise to us, and we’re very surprised about it,” he said.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall summed up the Sask Party’s outlook on these concerns, saying, “A budget is about choices, and we still think there’s record support for the vulnerable, for low-income people, for disabled people in this province. Record support. That has not changed with this budget.”