Changes to support payments a big help

More help will assist mothers flee abusive relationships

Rebecca Bodo welcomes changes to social assistance rules.

Rebecca Bodo welcomes changes to social assistance rules.

Next school year will be easier for Rebecca Bodo.

She’ll be able to buy school clothes for her five-year-old daughter Sophey, and when it comes time for the class photos she won’t have to scramble and scrape together the cash for the photographer’s fee.

That’s because the Liberal government has changed its policy on clawing back family support payments from moms who are receiving income or disability assistance.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced the change Feb. 17.

“It’s a miracle,” said Bodo, a Maple Ridge mother on disability income. “It’s going to benefit us beyond what I expected.”

As of Sept. 1, she’ll be able to keep the $400 a month that her ex-husband sends from Alberta for child support.

Prior, that amount has been clawed back from the $1,242 she gets in monthly disability income assistance for food, clothing and car expenses.

She uses the food bank to stretch out her income – after paying the $510 rent for a subsidized apartment and $225 for car insurance.

“I can get her sneakers that are appropriate for her age.”

She’ll also be able to start a registered disability income savings plan for her daughter, who’s autistic, so that her child will have something when she grows up.

With the extra cash, she might be able to afford swimming lessons for her daughter.

Bodo told her story last November about getting by without the support from her ex husband as part of a decade-long policy of the provincial government.

But she was glad her predicament was made public so people heard about it.

The campaign to get the government to change course took place on a few fronts. The NDP opposition raised the topic.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing tried unsuccessfully to get the Liberal convention to discuss the issue, and in September the City of Maple Ridge sent a resolution to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, asking that families be allowed to keep $300 a month in support payments.

Bodo, though, figures it was the looming court action that forced the government’s move.

“The class action lawsuit would have been pretty embarrassing for the Liberal government to acknowledge the wrong-doing.”

The Community Legal Assistance Society, along with three single mothers, last October launched a challenge of the government’s policy.

Bodo said allowing mothers to keep child-support payments will make it easier for them to leave abusive relationships because they can expect more financial support.

“It’s a huge step forward in giving women the freedom to leave the relationship.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read welcomed the government turn-around.

“This is great news for families who are struggling to raise families under tough circumstances.”

It’s a reminder that resolutions to regional bodies, “can have a huge impact on policy decisions at the provincial and federal level.”

According to budget documents, 3,200 families and 5,400 children on income and disability assistance will benefit from the change which takes effect Sept. 1.

Maple Ridge submitted the resolution last September.

Steven Lamothe, chair of Maple Ridge’s social planning advisory committee, said one of the goals of the committee is to promote policies that eliminate poverty.

“This is great news for all children and families in Maple Ridge.”