Job Market Trends and News

Changes coming for thousands of Sask. people on income assistance

The Ministry of Social Services is making changes to a number of income assistance benefits this fall, all aimed at saving the provincial government money.

The Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP), the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program, and the Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA) will all be altered when it comes to overpayment recovery rates, special diet benefits and home repairs.

The changes will come into effect on Oct. 1.

Recovering public money

The province said in order to get overpayments back quicker, recovery rates will be increased by $10 a month. For clients that have received more funds than they are entitled to, their income assistance benefits will be reduced by $25 to $110 until the owing amount is paid back.

Currently, 6,250 SAP clients, 3,450 SAID beneficiaries and 600 TEA clients have reduced benefits due to overpayments.

'We tried to find a balance between recovering some of the benefit amounts that we need to as a government with public tax dollars and not causing undue hardship for individuals.' - Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor said the ministry estimates the measures will save about $600,000 within the coming year.

"We tried to find a balance between recovering some of the benefit amounts that we need to as a government with public tax dollars and not causing undue hardship for individuals. The $10 was an effort to be reasonable with that in mind," she said.

NDP interim leader Nicole Sarauer said she is still looking into the changes and what they will mean for residents on social assistance. 

"Our major concern is ensuring that nobody falls through the cracks," she told CBC News on Monday.

Diet differences

Currently, benefits are increased for individuals requiring special diets over 3,000 calories per day, due to diabetes, obesity, dialysis, pregnancy, breast feeding, HIV or AIDS. Doctors are required to fill out special diet forms in order for their patients to be eligible for these payments.

Instead of offering benefits based on calories, as of Oct. 1, patients will have to reach out to dieticians to get a customized diet budget based on each individual condition.

Beaudry-Mellor said the ministry is moving toward focusing special diet benefits to address conditions to reflect best practices.

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor says the changes are part of a total redesign of the province's income assistance program. (CBC News)

She said the approximate 1,300 people who receive these benefits can expect notice in the mail and will have to make appointments in order to get the amount they require. If they do not go to the doctor, the province will automatically reduce their benefits from up to $140 to a maximum of $42.

Beaudry-Mellor said she is unsure if this change will save the government money.

Hit to homeowners

Lastly, the home repair benefit will be discontinued and clients requiring emergency repairs will have to look to the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation's Emergency Repair Program. The ministry is increasing the amount available in this program and will provide forgivable loans of up to $12,000 for emergency repair needs, rather than $6,000.

"Basic home maintenance and repairs is part of being a homeowner so ... if they have a faucet that breaks, we can provide them with an advance, but it would be repayable in that case," Beaudry-Mellor said. "If they have a furnace that breaks down, that's an emergency."

Beaudry-Mellor said the province will provide a forgivable loan through the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

There are about 1,100 clients of the ministry who are homeowners and the abolished benefit is accessed about 430 times each year.

The ministry estimates a savings through this cut of $130,000 in the next year.

Its clients who are affected by these changes can contact their income assistance worker or assured income specialist for more information.

Published by CBC News