BC Government 2019 budget and TogetherBC poverty reduction plan

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Ana Francisconi

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Ana Francisconi

The poverty line in BC identified by the province’s TogetherBC poverty reduction plan, released March 18, 2019, is around $20,000 a year for singles and about $40,000 a year for a family of four. The plan uses the Market Basket Measure, based on what it costs to buy the goods and services for a modest, basic standard of living, to count people living in poverty. Using this measure, BC currently has one of the highest rates of poverty, with more than 557,000 people living below the poverty line, including around 100,000 children. The goal of the plan is to reduce overall poverty in the province by one-quarter and to cut child poverty in half within the next five years.

The plan, estimated to cost four billion dollars over the next five years, requires annual reporting on specific targets every year, starting October 1, 2020. In a March 21, 2019, article, Tracy Sherlock, writing for the Vancouver Courier, interviewed Shane Simpson, BC Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, who recalled his own childhood in the Raymur Housing Project in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver, where his mother, a single parent fleeing family violence, raised he and his sister, first on welfare and then on a minimum-wage job. He spoke strongly about the TogetherBC strategy, which he says “at its heart is about people. It’s about the challenges they face every day just to get by. It’s about the right of every British Columbian to be seen to be valued, to have access to opportunities for a better life for themselves and their families.”

The plan includes a number of initiatives already under way, particularly those announced in the February 2019 budget. First Call BC, in their statement on the 2019 budget, note that the big news for families with children is that, starting in October, 2020, a new BC Child Opportunity Benefit will replace the Early Childhood Tax Benefit. Under the new Benefit, the provincial government will increase the maximum benefit to $1600 for the first child and extend it to families with children up to the age of 18. (The current tax credit is cut off once a child turns six.) First Call, whilst expressing how delighted they are with this significant investment in children, would like to see the threshold of $25,000/year of family income, for full benefit, raised so that the full benefit would be made available to more low-income families.

The 2019 budget also adds an additional $9 million annually for child care, on top of the $1 billion that was included in the 2019 budget. Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC, quoted in a Star Metro article on Feb 21, 2019, commented that the new investment in child care exceeded expectations. She said, “It’s really good news for child care, and it didn’t really get the attention it deserved.” The budget for child care increased to $366 million this year, up from $182 million last year. For Gregson and the other childcare advocates will begin to work towards their next targets: a provincial wage grid for early childhood educators to bring wages in the sector up from their current level of about $15/hours to $25/hour; an increase in the number of $10-a-day child care sites; and a commitment to work with school districts and municipalities to create more public and not-for-profit child-care spaces.

The 2019 budget included increases to foster parent rates and increased kinship caregiver payments to match foster parents’ compensation. First Call BC not that the aim of this is to reduce the number of children coming into government care due to family proverty, in keeping with Grand Chief Ed John’s recommendations. First Call note that it was not clear whether or not the caregiver “must be in the Extended Family Program (which will see a 75% increase) or the Post-Adoption Assistance Program (which will see a 15% increase)”.

The budget included a commitment of $300 million over the next three years towards helping to keep Indigenous children out of care, supporting the construction of affordable housing units on- and off- reserve, and changes to K-12 curriculum to incorporate learning for all students about Indigenous culture and history.

As well, the budget included:

  • New investments in health care for women, children and newborns

  • Additional funding for respite services for parents who provide care for children with disabilities

  • Greater investments to improve access to mental health care for children and youth

  • New funding to make sure children in care benefit from provincial child tax benefits

  • Additional funding for housing including more modular housing units, a province-wide homelessness count, and establishing a province-wide rent bank

GovernmentNelli Agbulos