WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberals say the Pallister government is making it nearly impossible for people on social assistance to get an extra benefit to make up for lost income due to the pandemic shutdown.
Manitoba's EIA system, Employment and Income Assistance, is one of the worst-funded welfare systems in Canada. Older folks, people with disabilities and people suffering from mental illness haven't seen an increase in basic assistance provincial rates in 28 years.
One minor exception is that people on EIA could earn an extra $100 a month by volunteering. With the coronavirus shutdown, those volunteer opportunities have dried up.
Manitoba Liberals say that while the PCs have agreed to help cover the lost $100, they are making it nearly impossible for people to apply.
Jon Gerrard, Manitoba Liberal MLA for River-Heights said he was contacted by Tara St. Laurent, a constituent on EIA who earned the top up working at the Winnipeg Humane Society. She was initially denied the benefit until the Liberals wrote to the PC Minister of Families, Heather Stefanson, whose office had to intervene directly.
"These are vulnerable Manitobans who are doing what they can to give back to the community," said Gerrard. "The PCs shouldn't be hiding this benefit. Everyone on EIA should know they are eligible, and every worker should be helping them get it - not hiding it."
Manitoba Liberals say the PCs appear to be keeping the benefit under wraps to keep from paying it out. The fee needs to be approved by a caseworker - but they can't be reached.
As a result, many others who are eligible are not getting the benefit because they don't know the benefit is available.
"It's a well-kept secret by EIA. If you don't know the help exists, they don't tell you so you can't request the funds," said St. Laurent.
St. Laurent is not the only one. The Liberals were also approached by Samantha Funk, who is also on EIA because of a disability. For years, she has earned her $100 benefit by volunteering with her church. She has been trying for weeks to get the benefit, but couldn't get an answer until Gerrard reached out the Minister's office.
"This is not the time for the PCs to create bureaucratic hoops to jump through, or to punish people who have a track record of giving back to the community," said Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface. "EIA should be overhauled entirely. But in the meantime, making sure people don't lose $100 a month they spend on food is the first step."