Yukoners receiving social assistance will not have their payments clawed back when the Canada Child Benefit kicks in on July 1, says the Yukon Party government.
Nor will the new federal benefit affect the ability of Yukon families to access the Yukon Child Benefit, the Kids Recreation Fund, the Children’s Drug and Optical Program, and the Child Care Subsidy Program, which are all income-based social assistance programs, cabinet spokesperson Michael Edwards confirmed today.
“The premier and the minister have given direction to Health and Social Services that the new federal government program will have no negative impact on the (above) programs,” said Edwards. “The people will be able to access the programs in the same way.”
Mike Nixon, the minister of Health and Social Services, said today there will be an adjustment period over the summer. If some Yukoners do see their social assistance clawed back in that time, the government will retroactively repay them.
“We are still grappling with how this new benefit will affect our own programs,” Nixon told the Star.
“We anticipate that probably by August, latest September, that we’ll have our regulations in place and any clawbacks between (July 1 and) that time, we’ll have money returned to them,” he said.
In the Yukon, the amount a family gets in social assistance is pegged to its income.
The worry was that families would see their social assistance payments reduced (“clawed back”) if the Canada Child Benefit is counted as a source of income.
Right now, the Yukon government counts the federal National Child Benefit Supplement as income.
“The whole point (of the Canada Child Benefit) is to put money in families’ accounts for them to be able to provide for and support their children,” NDP MLA Jan Stick said in an interview today.
“It will put money into their pockets for them to determine how to best use it: to buy better groceries, activities for their kids.”
In the past, Stick said, the territorial government used a portion of federal child benefits to subsidize local social assistance programs.
“This time, we’re trying to put money into the pockets of those who need it,” she said.
The Yukon government currently provides social assistance to 235 recipients.
Anti-poverty groups such as Canada Without Poverty (CWP) and Campaign 2000 have called on the provinces and territories to not reduce social assistance payments once the Canada Child Benefit comes into effect.
“It is absolutely critical that the CCB (Canada Child Benefit) not result in claw backs that deny the most impoverished Canadian families additional income to help meet their children’s needs,” said CWP in a June 6 statement.
“One of the big concerns across the country is the level at which social assistance rates are set – they tend to be below any reasonable standard of living and below any measure of poverty,” said Leilani Farha, executive director of CWP.
“The sense that we shouldn’t entrust people living in poverty with money, but rather we should claw it back as a territory and then we invest this money in programs that we think people need has a paternalistic feeling to it, that we know better, we know what people need,” she said.
Under the new Canada Child Benefit program, each year families will get up to $6,400 per child under the age of six and up to $5,400 per child aged six to 17.
The benefit is tax-free and pegged to income. Families with a net income of less than $30,000 will get the maximum benefit.
Payments, which are delivered monthly, begin July 20 in the Yukon and replace Canada Child Tax Benefit and the Universal Child Care Benefit.
The idea is to target the payments to families who need it most.
Low- and middle-income families will receive more money under the Canada Child Benefit.
High-income families (those earning a net income of $150,000 or more) will receive less than under previous child benefit programs.
About nine out of 10 families will see their benefits increase under the new system, according to the Liberal government.
The added cost of caring for a child with a serious disability is also accounted for under the new system. The Child Disability Benefit will continue and families will get up to $2,730 for each child with a severe disability.
The government estimates that the Canada Child Benefit will raise about 300,000 children out of poverty in 2016-17.
In total, Ottawa will spend about $23 billion on the new program in 2016-17.
Other jurisdictions have also said the new program will not affect benefits their residents currently receive through provincial/territorial social assistance programs.
Ontario families, for example, will not see their social assistance clawed back once the Canada Child Benefit payments begin. Families in that province will be eligible for rent-geared-to-income housing, and dental benefits for low-income children, the same as before.
“Putting the full amount of the Canada Child Benefit in the hands of families instead of clawing it back to subsidize existing provincial programs is a crucial way to help the most vulnerable children and families in our province,” Dr. Helena Jaczek, the Ontario minister of Community and Social Services, said in a June 17 statement.
Nunavut too, will not count the Canada Child Benefit as income.
UNICEF measures inequality among children in the world’s wealthiest countries.
In its 2016 report on child inequality called Fairness for Children: Canada’s Challenge, the United Nations children’s organization looked at how far the most disadvantaged children are allowed to fall behind children in the middle, in terms of their health, income, education and general satisfaction with life.
The report calls Canada “one of the more unequal societies for children,” ranking it 26th of 35 countries.
At 17 per cent, Canada has one of the highest rates of child poverty among the world’s most affluent nations, said the report.
“It is unlikely that Canada will substantially lift the well-being of children unless we address broader income inequality,” reads the UNICEF report.
The Canada Child Benefit, UNICEF said, “is likely to reduce child poverty by around 25-30 per cent and help narrow inequality.”