Disabled volunteer stipend cut

Carole James: community supplement gets the axe - a broken promise

NDP social development critic Carole James says the province’s failure to renew the Community Volunteer Supplement (CVS) is a “broken promise” to people with disabilities.

She explains that in March 2012, Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell pledged that the program was being restructured and would be relaunched.

“At the time, the minister said details about changes to the program would be provided within a couple of months. However, six months after the B.C. Liberals promised more details, community organizations and people with disabilities find out that the government has no plans to bring it back and no details about what will be replacing it.”

The CVS program was established to help offset the cost of volunteering, such as travel, food and clothing, for eligible individuals receiving income assistance who were volunteering a minimum of 10 hours each month in their community.

Stilwell says the program previously had a long wait list and was not sustainable.

When the decision was made to grandfather the program in the fall of 2011, the estimated cost to clear the wait list was approximately $15 million annually, she explains.

“In October 2011, as promised, every person on the CVS wait list was given the opportunity to apply for the program and begin receiving their supplement.”

Stilwell adds everyone currently enrolled in the CVS program will continue to receive their supplement for as long as they choose to keep working at the volunteer job in their community.

“Going forward, our government is focusing on programs and initiatives that will increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Our goal is to ensure supports are in place to foster greater community inclusion and encourage people with disabilities to work as they are able.”

Together Against Poverty Society executive director Kelly Newhook says the program provided a much-needed $100/month supplement to people with disabilities who volunteer regularly in their community to help with associated costs.

“This delay is extremely disappointing for the thousands of people living with disabilities in B.C. who want to contribute to our communities through volunteering.

“Many people simply cannot afford to volunteer without the CVS because the provincial ‘persons with disabilities’ income assistance rates are so low.”

However, Stilwell explains her ministry has introduced other, new initiatives that are now underway (although unrelated to volunteerism).

In June 2012, she says modest policy changes were introduced for individuals receiving disability assistance.

These include enhanced earnings exemptions, so individuals with a disability designation may now earn up to $800 per month and still receive their full pensions, Stilwell notes.

On Jan. 1, 2013, her ministry introduced the flexibility for individuals with disabilities to calculate earnings during times when they are able to work on a yearly basis, she says, up to a total exemption of $9,600.

Stilwell adds the ministry is also waiving the waiting period for claiming earnings exemptions for former clients who need to reapply for assistance, as “a safety net” to bolster confidence to move toward full independence.