By Steph Troughton
Maple Ridge parents Luke Dickinson and Katie Aldred already understand how to pinch pennies to pay for their family’s basic necessities – rent, hydro and groceries.
But they have been shocked and scrambling ever since they learned they will be denied maternity benefits because her husband is receiving disability income.
“It was kind of like I got kicked in the groin,” the 31-year-old father of soon-to-be three said.
Dickinson suffers from severe clinical depression and receives $1,490 in monthly benefits. Since childhood, he has been battling with the condition that forces him to retreat from routine activities when the depression sets in.
“I’ve been in and out of counselling since I was five.”
His spouse Katie has been working as a part-time sales representative and the approximately $1,000 she brings in monthly has always qualified as an exemption. However, when she gives birth to her third child in September, her income will not be replaced with maternity leave benefits because the province regards them as a form of income assistance.
Rent for the Dickinson’s three-bedroom apartment is $1,325 a month. Prior to moving in to their current location, Dickinson explained the family was living in “very cramped” quarters. Once Katie loses her income, her family will be left with less than $400 each month to cover all other expenses that come up.
Dickinson, who has tried to work at many different jobs over the years, but could not retain any of them due to the fact his depression would take over, explained he only shared his story in hopes the government might consider changing this policy.
“Even if it doesn’t help my family now, maybe it will help another family,” he said.
NDP Social Development critic Michelle Mungall is adamant this family of five will struggle to survive on Dickinson’s benefits alone.
“Really, for Luke and Katie, their No. 1 concern is putting food on the table and paying rent, so in other words, basic necessities,” she said.
Roughly 150 families in the province, amounting to approximately $440,000, are affected annually by the provincial government’s decision to maintain this particular government clawback that has been in effect since 2002.
In response to Dickinson and Aldred’s concern, Minister for Social Development Michelle Stillwell issued a statement: “It is important to point out that income and disability assistance are income and asset-tested programs of last resort. People are required to pursue all other forms of income before relying on provincial assistance, including employment insurance. This is a practice in more Canadian jurisdictions.”
Stillwell also highlighted some of the increased exemptions the Liberal party has been responsible for, including one from 2015.
“For people on disability assistance, we increased earning exemptions from $500 to $800 a month, and in January, 2015, B.C. became the first province in Canada to annualize those earning exemptions up to $9,600 a year.”