On August 8th, the government made very significant changes to the income assistance regulations regarding ‘special needs’ assistance. These changes cut essential health related assistance to people with disabilities. Attached to this email is a chart which makes clear the regulatory changes.One thought that has occurred to me after reading the Province's press release on this issue - the implication seems to be that perhaps the "special needs budget" may have been abused in some cases.
We urgently need your help in letting the government know that the recent cuts to human rights protections and services from income assistance legislation are unacceptable.
Please write/call Premier Darrell Dexter and your MLA. Let them know you are concerned about the rights of the poorest people in Nova Scotia.
Below you will find:
- Background information
- A form letter you can send to the government
- Contact information for the Premier and MLAs
You can also;
Visit the Stop the Special Needs Cutback – Defend Welfare Rights in Nova Scotia Facebook page
See footage from a press conference held Tuesday, August 16 where disabled people and allies spoke out against the cutback here.
On August 8th government announced changes to the Employment Support Income Assistance regulations. These changes mean that special needs assistance that had been available for people who could show that they required items or services for ‘essential’ needs or to ‘alleviate pain and suffering’ have simply been repealed. They’re gone!
Particularly, from the perspective of people with disabilities, this is a significant setback in their enjoyment of human rights. The changes strip people of their right to obtain accommodative special needs services which they could show were either ‘essential’ or necessary to ‘alleviate pain and suffering’. Now, if required items or services are not found in the ESIA Special Needs Policy Manual, they can't and won't be provided.
We would like to respond to some of the arguments we’ve heard from government in the media:
"Nothing has changed"
The Department of Community Services has changed the law. In the past, courts have said that Community Services policy was not consistent with the law. Rather than change their policy to conform with the law, the government has stripped persons with disabilities of their legal rights by repealing the regulation that gave people in need the right to seek essential services.
Rights have been taken away. The government has restricted special needs – particularly in the area of health care. Now the law prohibits special needs assistance for things like "non-MSI insured services.” This is very broadly worded to apply to many health needs "items, services, treatments and substances."
This means that certain dental care including most non-emergency care, massage, physiotherapy, psychological counseling, medical marijuana, and many other health services and treatments cannot be provided prescription drugs unless they are approved as a benefit under pharmacare program
Even though the government's figures show that few people were accessing exceptional special needs assistance, this does not justify taking away the right to obtain accommodative special needs items or services. The fact that so few people were able to obtain their rights on paper does not justify taking those rights away.
The government has said that people who received exceptional special needs assistance were exploiting a "loophole". It was not a “loophole”, it was the law. See the chart attached to this email explaining the regulatory amendments.
“Level the playing field”
The government says that the change was made to "level playing field", to provide the same assistance to all people in Nova Scotia.
Before the law was changed, people in need had the right to seek assistance for essential services. Now no one has the right to seek assistance for essential services. In that sense, everyone is being treated identically. It’s like saying "the law forbids rich and poor from sleeping under bridges".
In fact, the changes limit the items and services people can receive to those listed in policy and take away the ability of caseworkers, boards and courts to grant individualized and accommodative special needs. In fact, it is precisely the attitude of ensuring that everyone will be treated the same that is at the root of why this will be so harmful to people with disabilities whose needs can only be determined in context by and assessment of each person's situation--a limited province-wide list of what is covered can never do this.
"Dal Legal Aid is the cause of the problem"
The regulations were approved by our elected representatives and interpreted by the NS Supreme Court to require DCS to provide access to essential services - the attempt by government to discredit the spokespeople on this issue is a smokescreen and should not be allowed to deflect our attention from the real issue - DCS failure to implement the law, and their decision now to strip people of the rights they had on paper.
Dear Member of the Legislative Assembly,
I am writing to you to express my concern about the recent changes to the Employment Support Income Assistance regulations. These changes will particularly affect disabled Nova Scotians. This is a significant setback in their enjoyment of human rights. These changes strip people of their right to obtain accommodative special needs services which they could show were either ‘essential’ or necessary to ‘alleviate pain and suffering’.
It is unacceptable to take away basic human rights to “essentials” and services required to ‘alleviate pain and suffering’–especially from people with disabilities who are living in poverty!
Regardless of how many people have accessed these special needs, it is important that our government uphold the human rights and access to items and services that are necessary for them to live with dignity and good health.
I am asking this government to reverse this regressive cutback to essential health services for disabled Nova Scotians.
Thank you for your attention.
The statement that "Over the years, the department has received special needs requests for items and services like hot tubs, gym memberships, and humming touch therapy. These were never intended to be covered under special needs, but because the regulations were not clear, about 20-25 of these requests were approved either by a caseworker or through an appeal" sounds like, perhaps, an attempt to show the public that this government is acting responsibility and ending cases of funding being provided in perhaps less than legitimate circumstances.
To which I respond that IF funding has been provided in situations that are not completely on the 'up and up", the solution is to put safeguards in place to ensure that does not occur.
The solution is NOT to take services away from those who legitimately require this assistance and have the medical proof to back up their claims.
And, now, I must go get some work done. But I hope to perhaps pop back later with some more legally-developed thoughts on this situation.
In the meantime, let's get out there and NOT let this happen. You know what to do.
But before you do, make sure to check out the three videos from the press coverage. It will be well worth your time to help you solidify your thinking and the facts around this matter.
NDP Caucus Contact Info:
Becky Kent (Cole Harbour - Eastern Passage): (902) 465-3180
Gary Ramey (Lunenburg West ): (902) 530-8081
Brian Skabar (Cumberland North): (902) 667-9812
Pam Birdsal (Lunenburg): (902) 634-9110
Jim Morton (Kings North): (902) 678-6880
Lenore Zann (Truro-Bible Hill): (902) 897-9266
Sid Prest (Eastern Shore): (902) 889-2112
Densise Petersen-Rafuse (Chester-St. Margarets): (902) 857-3378
Jim Boudreau (Guysborough-Sheet Harbour): (902) 366-3033
Ramona Jennex (Kings South): (902) 681-3741
Mat Whynott (Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville): (902) 864-5310
Ross Landry (Pictou Centre)(902) 752-7677
Gary Burrill (Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley): (902) 639-2277
Maurice Smith (Antigonish): (902) 863-0444
Sterling Belliveau (Shelburne): (902) 637-3200
Vicki Conrad (Queens): (902) 354-5203
Frank Corbett (Cape Breton Centre): (902) 862-9550
Darrell Dexter (Cole Harbour): (902) 462-5300
Howard Epstein (Halifax Chebucto): (902) 425-8521
Bill Estabrooks (Timberlea-Prospect): (902) 876-2472
Gordie Gosse (Cape Breton Nova): (902) 564-9161
Maureen MacDonald (Halifax Needham): (902) 455-2926
John MacDonell (Hants East): (902) 883-7308
Clarrie MacKinnon (Pictou East): (902) 396-1853
Marilyn More (Dartmouth South - Portland Valley): (902) 463-6673
Percy Paris (Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank ): (902) 860-4004
Charlie Parker (Pictou West): (902) 485-4550
Leonard Preyra (Halifax Citadel): (902) 444-3238
Michelle Raymond (Halifax Atlantic): (902) 477-4100
Graham Steele (Halifax Fairview): (902) 453-5556
Dave Wilson (Sackville Cobequid): (902) 864-0396