LETTERS: Restricting those with disabilities

Open letter to Premier Christy Clark from over 160 organizations including the Penticton and District Society for Community Living.

We are writing in response to the B.C.  government’s budget, which announced a modest increase of $77 to persons with disabilities benefits while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities.

For the reasons set out in this letter, our organizations strongly oppose the changes to the B.C. Bus Pass Program and the Special Transportation Subsidy. We call on the government to leave these programs in place, and to provide a meaningful rate increase for all income assistance and disability assistance recipients.

The B.C. Bus Pass Program currently offers an annual bus pass at a reduced cost of $45 per year for disability assistance recipients in areas where BC Transit and Translink operate. The Special Transportation Subsidy provides a lump sum subsidy to people who reside in an area where the bus pass program operates, but are unable to use public transit because of a disability, to help offset the cost of alternative transportation.

Many of our organizations work directly with people with disabilities, and all are acutely aware of the importance of these programs to ensure people are able to move about their communities.

As you know, those who rely on these programs will now be charged $52 per month for a bus pass, or $66 per month for the Special Transportation Subsidy. This means that for those recipients, the rate increase is actually only $25 or $11, respectively. Further, the government has said that it will still charge the $45 per year “administrative fee” on top of that. Promoting the change as a $77 increase to disability rates is misleading and unfair. While the government maintains that its aim is to make the system fairer for people with disabilities who do not currently receive support for transportation, the proposed changes are not the right approach.

It has been almost a decade since the government has increased income assistance and disability rates — and at $906 per month, disability assistance rates in B.C. are among the lowest in the country.

For many living in poverty in B.C., this is not a real choice. While the $77 increase will undeniably help those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate, it creates an impossible choice for those that do rely on these transportation programs. With disability assistance frozen at a paltry $906 per month — an amount clearly inadequate to meet basic needs — it will be difficult not to opt to put the $77 each month toward previously unmet needs like food or rent.

The Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy allowed vulnerable members of our communities to make a $45 purchase once per year, and then have a reliable method of transportation year-round.

The proposed changes to these programs will result in social isolation for those who “choose” not to renew, particularly for those with disabilities that restrict their mobility.

Our organizations collectively urge you to: bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities; eliminate the new $52 per month bus pass fee; allow everyone receiving PWD benefits to keep the $77 per month increase; bring back the Special Transportation Subsidy, and introduce a rural transportation subsidy for those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate; and raise income and disability assistance significantly by Oct. 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living, and then index to inflation.

Signed from over 160 organizations in B.C. including the Penticton and District Society for Community Living