People living with a disability in New Brunswick are making a difficult choice.
In order to maintain their welfare from the Department of Social Development, advocates say they are forced to choose between a basic income and living with the person they love.
Household income policy, or HIP as it is casually called, adjusts the amount of social assistance a person can receive if they move in with another person.
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Ability NB’s executive director Haley Flaro said it wobbles along the lines of discrimination. In some cases, if the benefits are not reduced, they are eliminated entirely.
“People with disabilities live away from their spouse just so they can have the income to meet their basic needs,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I have heard stories of people who have had to choose to live apart rather than get married.”
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Flaro said some interviews and research done with students at St. Thomas University have revealed startling stories of people facing the policy, some she says are the worst she has ever heard.
“Ability NB is really asking for the elimination of the household income policy for people with disabilities and their spouses,” she said.
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The problem isn’t just that spouses are living apart, Flaro explained, it’s happening in the midst of a housing crisis. People are forced to occupy units unnecessarily because of the rules.
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She said she was aware of at least 30 units in use due to HIP.
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Yet those facing the problem are not backing down.
A letter writing campaign called Ax le HIP is underway. Pre-written letters are sent to Minister of Social Development Bruce Fitch.
He was not available for an interview on Thursday, however, in a statement, the department said: “When it is determined that two or more people have formed a family unit, the department will review their eligibility for social assistance benefits. and issue a check to the household. “
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“The amount of income assistance provided is based on the number of people in a unit and their available resources,” the statement said.
“This policy was developed to ensure that social development does not discriminate against people on the basis of sex, marital status or sexual orientation,” the statement added.
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When asked if the department viewed the removal of social assistance for people with disabilities based on their marital status as discriminatory, he declined to comment on the grounds of privacy.
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Flaro said she was disappointed that despite the announcement of social development reform three years ago, there had been no progress.
However, Ken Pike, director of social policy for the New Brunswick Association for Community Living, said he was preparing a brief for the department alongside 10 other advocacy groups, including Ability NB.
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He said it’s incredibly difficult for people with disabilities to cope with this because being able to live with someone you love is something everyone should be able to do.
“This is what we call the negative impact of policy,” he said in an interview Thursday, “and is that impact big enough that the policy needs to be changed? … We think in this case it should.
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