Protest

ACORN N.S. protest cuts to transport, special diets from Community Services

People who are ill, disabled, not getting basic needs met, says ACORN N.S.

20151204_142950
Protesters for ACORN Nova Scotia outside Province House in Halifax, Friday.   Steve Large

On Friday, about a dozen people gathered outside Province House in Halifax to protest cuts from the Department of Community Services to income assistance recipients.

According to a press release from ACORN Nova Scotia, a community organization that fights for the interests of low-income people, the cuts have caused many income assistance and disability recipients to stop getting money for medically-required special diets and bus passes.

 Evan Coole, a Halifax ACORN board member, said what people on social assistance are experiencing now is a tightening of department policy around special needs.

“Although they’re called ‘special needs,’ they are largely things that most people would consider basic needs,” he said. “They are getting their doctor to write a note to support funding for their medical need, then the Department of Community Services [rejects] it.”

According to Coole, the Department of Community Services often asks for a second, third, and even fourth note from a doctor to support a special need.

“That means people who are on income assistance because they are ill, sick, and disabled are not getting their basic needs met,” he said.

Bonnie Barrett, chairperson for ACORN Nova Scotia’s Halifax north chapter, said the cuts have affected her personally, along with every low-income person in the province.

“I have a walker,” she said. “It’s very hard for me to get around. [The Department of Community Services is] trying to cut out the bus transportation and I don’t think that’s right for the people who are disabled.”

Barrett said low-income people in Nova Scotia need what they have in terms of assistance and cuts would be devastating to their welfare.

“If they cut some of [the benefits] out, we’re not going to be able to live,” she said. “Last year, I only made $5200. It’s hard to live on that.”

Heather Fairbairn, a media relations advisor for the department, said there have been no changes to the supports available to people in Nova Scotia.

“Funding for special diets and transportation is based on the client’s actual need and actual cost,” she said in an email. “If an individual’s circumstances change, the amount of funding provided may also be adjusted. Caseworkers work with their clients to review the options available.“

Fairbairn said the Department of Community Services recognizes the situations many low-income Nova Scotians face.

“Far too many Nova Scotians are living in poverty,” she said in the email. “We know that we need to address the root causes of the poverty so that people can lead independent lives. The Department of Community Services is addressing poverty by transforming our core services – social assistance, disability support, children’s services, and housing – so that people have hope for a better future.”