BC Budget 2017 Press Release from Inclusion BC

PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate release

Community leaders welcome Budget 2017 as a step forward, but map still needed for the road ahead

February 21, 2017

VICTORIA, BC— Inclusion BC joined community leaders to welcome the 2017 BC Budget investments in social infrastructure as a positive step forward, while noting the need for further work, including comprehensive plans and more community/government collaboration, to improve the lives of vulnerable British Columbians.

Community Living BC

The 2017 budget increase for Community Living BC will help the provincial agency respond to expected growth in the number of adults with developmental disabilities requiring residential and community inclusion supports for the coming year.

However, remaining challenges include ongoing cost pressures, growing complexity of needs, accumulated waitlists and total caseloads that are projected to continue increasing in future years.

”We welcome the increase as a good step,” said Inclusion BC Executive Director Faith Bodnar. “But it is not enough to address the accumulation of unmet needs, as more youth transition to adult services each year, and families and support agencies struggle with more complex needs.”

The number of adults requiring CLBC supports has been growing by 5 – 6% annually in recent years and CLBC expects that trend to continue. The budget increase for 2017/18  reflects that trend. However, budget increases for the following two years (2018/19 and 2019/20) amount to 0.5% and 1% respectively, far below expected growth in the number of people served by CLBC.

“The funding gap creates severe stresses for community agencies and families who support people with developmental disabilities, in some cases resulting in acute crises,” Bodnar added.

Inclusion BC has urged a review of CLBC in light of challenges that include growing costs for aging adults and more complex needs including mental health, homelessness and addiction. “When people with developmental disabilities are forced to live in poverty, their challenges reflect those common to all people struggling with poverty,” Bodnar noted.

Persons With Disabilities (PWD) Benefits

Disability advocates hoped for a more significant increase to PWD rates than the $50 a month in the 2017 budget.

“Any increase to the rates is welcome, and we acknowledge that this is the second in the last 12 months,” Disability Alliance BC (DABC) Executive Director Jane Dyson said. “At the same time, an annual increase of $600 will provide little real improvement to the lives of people with disabilities who depend on provincial assistance and we welcome Finance Minister De Jong’s comments that we should continue to advocate for additional increases.”

BC’s Accessibility 2024 initiative includes both a commitment and a plan to make BC the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024. Advocates are urging that the Province build on this plan to resolve the constant lag between PWD rates and actual living costs.

“We need a plan to ensure that rates increase regularly, with indexing to inflation,” Dyson said. “We are also asking government to establish a stakeholder/government committee that allows us to work together on how such a system could work.”

DABC’s comments were echoed by other advocates, including Neil Belanger, executive director of the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society. “The recent PWD $50 / monthly increase announced by the government was welcomed but unfortunately less than what we and our sister organizations had hoped. We need to continue to work with government to ensure an adequate level of assistance is achieved and the vision of Accessibility 2024 realized.”

“Our concern is that without further adjustments, people with disabilities will continue to live in poverty and that CLBC will continue to serve as a crisis response system instead of proactively building capacity to meaningfully fulfill its mandate to promote real community inclusion,” Bodnar added.

Mental Health

Research shows that almost 70% of BC children and youth living with mental health problems do not receive the treatment they need, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (BC Division).

“Five of the most common mental health problems among children and youth – anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance use misuse, conduct disorder, and depression – are also preventable,” said CMHA-BC Policy Director Jonny Morris.

Today, the province announced a package of measures to respond to this treatment gap, improving child and youth mental health in BC schools, homes, and communities. This follows Friday’s announcement that the BC Government has signed on to the federal Health Accord, securing $655 million dollars for mental health and addictions care over the next ten years.

“Recent budgets have not emphasized mental health and addictions as much as Budget 2017,” said Morris. “It is encouraging to see a 20% increase in MCFD’s line item for child and youth mental health services. This is an important incremental step to the boost in funding needed to close the 70% treatment gap for BC children living with mental health and addiction problems.”

Affordable Housing

“As BC’s population surges, it is critical that the province continue to partner in building new rental supply of all types, particularly social housing that addresses homelessness,” said Kishone Roy, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, speaking on behalf of advocacy group Housing Central:.

However, he noted, increasing that supply is difficult under current rent supplement programs and income assistance that only offers $375 toward shelter for people in the deepest need.

“We believe that both building new supply, and providing more direct support to renters are necessary to tackle the affordable housing crisis,” Roy said.

Community supports

ASPECT BC (Association of Service Providers for Employability and Career Training) offered a similar message.

“Community-based organizations that provide employment services and training to British Columbians looking for work have long been challenged to help their clients with barriers to employment such as mental health, housing, and transportation,” said ASPECT-BC CEO Janet Morris-Reade.

“We are pleased to see increased support for these issues in this year’s budget,” Morris-Reade said. “This gives community-based organizations the resources from which to draw that will ultimately help their clients along the pathway toward meaningful and sustainable employment.”

Indigenous children & individuals living with disabilities

The 2017 Provincial Budget contained a number of positive steps forward for Indigenous children and individuals living with disabilities within British Columbia, said Neil Belanger executive director of the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS).

“However,” Belanger continued. “We need to see continued movement forward by the government to ensure that adequate resources, supports and services are made available for our most vulnerable citizens, and at levels not just to survive but to be able to thrive in our communities.”

Children & Families

“A lift in the Ministry serving B.C.’s most vulnerable children is always welcome,” says Rick FitzZaland, Executive Director of The Federation of Community Social Services of BC.

“This budget includes investments in childcare, services to children with special needs and mental health challenges, and a commitment to do better for children in care,” he added.  “I am hopeful that the investment in children in care services will allow for the continued implementation of the recommendations stemming from our 2012 joint report with MCFD on residential services.”