The territorial government says a month spent gathering feedback on income assistance has demonstrated a “high level of dissatisfaction” with the program.
That conclusion is found in a report documenting 363 responses from people who receive (or used to receive) income assistance, non-profits, government workers and the public.
The GNWT says it will now “reprofile” the existing income assistance program while also launching a new program for seniors and people with disabilities, as has been promised since 2019.
Dissatisfaction “primarily reflects participants’ beliefs that income assistance benefit levels are not aligned with the cost of living and, as such, are not sufficient to meet client needs,” the report states, summarizing participants’ views.
There is a belief that income assistance “traps clients in a cycle of poverty,” the report continues, while both staff and people claiming income assistance complain about a “high administrative burden.”
People providing feedback said a larger benefit with a bigger food allowance would “more accurately reflect the cost of living.” Some asked for the GNWT to consider introducing a home internet benefit, given the cost of the service and its necessity in modern life.
Feedback also included the suggestion that income exemptions should be increased, potentially allowing people to receive money from sales of traditional arts and crafts, gifts from family and friends, or the likes of treaty payments without their income assistance being affected.
In creating a new program for seniors and people with a disability, the GNWT was encouraged – among other requests – to adopt a standard definition of disability and to provide a fuel allowance for seniors in litres, not a fixed monetary value, to account for fluctuations in fuel prices.
The research was carried out in February and March this year. The full report can be found on the GNWT’s website.
The report follows a separate study by the NWT’s ombud, published in October, which found that the NWT’s income assistance workers often have too much work to do and not enough support.
Responding to that report, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment said changes to income assistance as the result of a broader review – and the introduction of its program for seniors and people with disabilities – were expected to take place “by the summer of 2023.”