Federal ESL, settlement funding dries up

Regional strategy sought for covering permanent residents

Dozens of students and several staff turned out from around the world with delicious dishes and well wishes for ESL co-ordinator Noreen Beer at a retirement potluck held on March 28. It was held at the Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy office in the South Cariboo Business Centre.

Soon, immigrants in the South Cariboo with permanent resident (PR) status may need to travel to larger cities for settlement and language services, unless Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy (CCPL) can continue to plug a financial hole left by cancelled federal funding.

CCPL executive director Shelly Joyner confirms after 10 years of operation, the last four under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), it has lost most of its federal funding for 100 Mile House, forcing it to significantly cut both staff hours and program availability.

“We had about 15 hours of immigrant and settlement per week before, and now we are at four.”

CCPL’s local English as a Second Language (ESL) program formerly had both a co-ordinator and a facilitator, she adds.

“For ESL, we are down to one person at six hours a week, where before we used to have two people, and they were [totaling] probably 30 hours a week.”

In 2014, CCPL put in an application for federal funding renewals and, after more than a year, discovered it was not approved nor flatly denied, she explains.

“We received notice in September that we were in this ‘B group’, which was ‘we cannot confirm funding but we are interested in the work you do’.”

Joyner adds that when they discovered these funding concerns, CCPL gathered support from about 15 other organizations that sent letters to Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett and IRCC asking them to do whatever possible to continue the federal portion of its program funding.

So far, there has been no more of this funding from the IRCC, although CCPL does receive limited provincial funding.

Joyner explains the provincial funding was actually increased when the IRCC funding dropped, but the problem is, provincial funding pays only for a different category of clients than the federal funding covered.

While the provincial funding covers various aspects of CCPL programs, including temporary foreign workers and permanent residents who are already Canadian citizens, what it does not cover are PR Canadians in learning language skills or for assistance with settling into their new country.

“Before what we were able to do is to provide very comprehensive English language classes and conversation circles, as well as immigration and settlement services workers that, actually, both sets of clients were able to benefit from, and it was sort of the big chunk of our ESL programming.

“So without that, we had to cut our ESL programming and, of course, lots of our hours for immigrant/settlement services.”

While fundamentally the remaining funding is only for provincially eligible clients, organizationally CCPL will continue to provide support for the rest of its clients (current and new) – as best it can under the constraints of staff time and space.

“We did get some money from BC Gaming this year, which we’ve never had before.”

Joyner says everyone at CCPL-100 Mile House is happy to have received the financial assistance of the province in its gaming application, so the rent for its office next year is mostly paid for, which the federal funding used to cover.

Now it can offer long-term ESL clients some space to use, and then its staff will help whenever this blends with the provincial-class clients without increasing program costs – including assistance in forming groups so clients can work on their own.

“If they want to form a group to meet and practice their English language skills, we have a space for that.”

The society is scrambling finding spaces for its staff within its organization for the majority of the lost hours, with moderate success after one of the three retired recently, and its other two skilled staff members being “too valuable to lose.”

However, CCPL is not taking this lying down, and is now actively working with programs in Williams Lake and Quesnel – a long way to travel for 100 Mile House residents seeking help with ESL tutoring and settlement.

“I would like to see a regional strategy … I’d like to see learners and clients not having to travel from 100 Mile where it’s already an hour’s drive for some of our clients, so I’d like to see learning hubs in all the three communities.”

Joyner adds she also wants to have these communities working collaboratively in this regional program’s design – and that is just what they are setting up now.

Meanwhile, she says given that the IRCC is strapped for cash too, she was pleased to hear the federal staff express regret and understanding of the CCPL issues in her conversations with them, as well as expressing some interest in a regional strategy.

“I believe that IRCC is interested in exploring this, I believe they care about our region, and they know what’s going on right now – which I am quite pleased to say.

“Even though we didn’t get this funding, we are not at a brick wall right now, and it looks like we are moving forward.”

For information about forming an ESL group or on any other program CCPL may offer locally, call Shelly Joyner at 250-395-9303 or e-mail shelly@cariboolit eracy.com.

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