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Open Letter to Premier Clarke - Raise The Rate, Leave Our Bus Pass Alone

We are writing in response to your government’s budget, tabled on February 16, 2016, which announced a modest increase of $77 to persons with disabilities benefits while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities.

April 21, 2016

Honourable Christy Clark, MLA
Premier of British Columbia
PO Box 9041 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9E1

Dear Premier Clark:

RE: BC Budget 2016 – Disability Assistance Rates and Transportation Programs

We are writing in response to your government’s budget, tabled on February 16, 2016, which announced a modest increase of $77 to persons with disabilities benefits while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities. For the reasons set out in this letter, our organizations strongly oppose the changes to the BC Bus Pass Program and the Special Transportation Subsidy. We call on the government to leave these programs in place, and to provide a meaningful rate increase for all income assistance and disability assistance recipients.

The BC Bus Pass Program currently offers an annual bus pass at a reduced cost of $45 per year for disability assistance recipients in areas where BC Transit and Translink operate. The Special Transportation Subsidy provides a lump sum subsidy to people who reside in an area where the Bus Pass Program operates, but are unable to use public transit because of a disability, to help offset the cost of alternative transportation. Approximately 55,000 of the 100,000 provincial disability assistance recipients rely on one of these two transportation programs. Many of our organizations work directly with people with disabilities, and all are acutely aware of the importance of these programs to ensure people are able to move about their communities, whether that be to shop for basic necessities, attend medical appointments, go to school, or take part in social gatherings.

As you know, those who rely on these programs will now be charged $52/month for a bus pass, or $66/month for the Special Transportation Subsidy. This means that for those recipients, the rate increase is actually only $25 or $11, respectively. Further, the government has said that it will still charge the $45 per year “administrative fee” on top of that. Promoting the change as a $77 increase to disability rates is misleading and unfair. While the government maintains that its aim is to make the system fairer for people with disabilities who do not currently receive support for transportation, the proposed changes are not the right approach.

It has been almost a decade since the government has increased income assistance and disability rates—and at $906 per month, disability assistance rates in BC are among the lowest in the country. In Alberta, for example, the government increased the comparable disability benefit (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)) to $1588 in 2012. The recently announced $77 increase to BC’s disability assistance rates would be a welcome (if inadequate) change, if it were truly providing that increase to all.

When the change was announced, the Honourable Minister of Finance Michael de Jong spoke about how it would allow those on disability assistance “the freedom to make their own choice about how to meet their own unique transportation needs”. For many living in poverty in BC, this is not a real choice. While the $77 increase will undeniably help those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate, it creates an impossible choice for those that do rely on these transportation programs. With disability assistance frozen at a paltry $906 per month—an amount clearly inadequate to meet basic needs—it will be difficult not to opt to put the $77 each month toward previously unmet needs like food or rent. The Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy allowed vulnerable members of our communities to make a $45 purchase once per year, and then have a reliable method of transportation year-round. The proposed changes to these programs will result in social isolation for those who “choose” not to renew, particularly for those with disabilities that restrict their mobility.

Finally, we are concerned about implementation of the proposed changes, which will inevitably be fraught with practical problems for both disability assistance recipients and Ministry staff. Over the last several years, there has been a radical shift from in-person services at local Ministry offices to services that are primarily delivered through a centralized phone line and over the internet. Wait times on the phone line are long, and many users of Ministry services lack the reliable phone or computer access required to access the services—and may also lack the capacity to navigate the new systems. It is difficult to reach Ministry staff at all, let alone the appropriate staff for a particular matter. Many that rely on the current transportation programs fear they will be unable to access Ministry staff in a timely way to resolve the issues that arise, and that staff will be ill- equipped to address the problems.

As our provincial government tabled its budget, it celebrated BC’s strong financial outlook. Minister de Jong emphasized that BC is in a position to “offer greater support to the most vulnerable among us.” It is long past due for the government to make real commitments to do just that – and to share some of this province’s wealth with the members of our communities that need it most. Our organizations collectively urge you to:

  • Bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities;
  • Eliminate the new $52/month bus pass fee;
  • Allow everyone receiving PWD benefits to keep the $77/month increase;
  • Bring back the Special Transportation Subsidy, and introduce a rural transportation subsidy for those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate; and
  • Raise income and disability assistance significantly by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living, and then index to inflation.


Action Committee of People with Disabilities
Africa Great Lakes Networking Foundation (AGL)
AIDS Network, Outreach & Support Society (ANKORS)
AIDS Vancouver Island
AiMHi – Prince George Association for Community Living
AMS Bike Co-op
Anglican Eco-Justice Unit, Diocese of New Westminster
Association Advocating for Women & Children (AWAC) – Prince George
Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC
BC Association of Child Development and Intervention
BC Association of Social Workers
BC Council for Families
BC Federation of Community Social Services
BC Federation of Labour
BC Federation of Retired Union Members (BC FORUM)
BC Federation of Students
BC Government and Service Employees’ Union
BC Health Coalition
BC Initiative for Inclusive Post-secondary Education (STEPS Forward)
BC Non-Profit Housing Association
BC Nurses Union
BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre
BC Teachers' Federation
BeConnected Support Services
Beneath One Sky Community Support Society
British Columbia Schizophrenia Society
British Columbia Schizophrenia Society, Prince George Branch
Burnaby Community Services
Campbell River and District Association for Community Living
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
Canadian Deaf Blind Association, BC Chapter
Canadian Mental Health Association, North and West Vancouver Branch
Carnegie Community Action Project
Cerebral Palsy Association of BC
Chilliwack Society for Community Living
Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods
Claytree Society for People with Developmental Disabilities
Clements Centre Society
Committee to End Homelessness, Victoria
Community Integration Services Society
Community Legal Assistance Society
Community Living Society
Community Living Victoria
Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria
Community Ventures Society
Cool-aid Society - YES
COSCO (Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C.)
Cowichan Valley Basket Society
Cridge Centre for the Family
Dandelion Society
Dawson Creek Society for Community Living
Delta Community Living Society
Disability Alliance BC
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House
Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver
Empowered Living Services
Faith in Action
Family Net
Family Services of Greater Vancouver
Family Support Institute of BC
Federation of Post-Secondary Educators
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Fort St. John Society for Community Living
Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association
Fraserside Community Services Society
Gitskan Government Commission
Gordon Neighbourhood House
Greater Trail Community Skills Centre
H.O.M.E.S – Healthy Opportunities for Meaningful Experience Society
Health Sciences Association of BC
Hospital Employees’ Union
Inclusion BC
Inclusion BC Foundation
Inclusion Kamloops
Inclusion Parksville
Inclusion Powell River
Indigenous Women's Action Group
Interdependent Investments
Interior BC Community Services Co-operative
Intersect Youth and Family Services Society
It’s My Life Kamloops Society
Kamloops and District Labour Council
Kindale Developmental Association
Kiwassa Neighbourhood House
Kootenay Advocacy Network
Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group - KPIRG
Lifetimes Networks Victoria
Living Wage for Families Campaign
Megaphone Magazine
Mid-Main Community Health Centre
Milieu Family Services
Mission Association for Community Living
Mom2Mom Child Poverty Initiative
MSA Society for Community Living
Mustard Seed Church
Nanaimo Association for Community Living
Nelson CARES Society
Nelson Committee on Homelessness
Nelson Community Services Centre
New Perspectives on Community Living Society
New Westminster & District Labour Council
North Shore ConneXions
North Shore Disability Resource Centre
Oasis Society
Our Place Society
Pacific Centre Family Services Association
Pacific Community Resources Society
Pacific Developmental Pathways Limited
Parent Support Services Society of BC
Pathways Abilities Society
Penticton and District Society for Community Living
Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Point Family Growth Centre
PLAN – Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network
PLAN Institute
Port Alberni Association for Community Living
Princeton and District Community Services Society
Raging Grannies of Maple Ridge
Raise the Rates BC
Realistic Success Recovery Society
Realize Coop
Richmond Centre for Disability
Richmond Poverty Response Committee
Richmond Society for Community Living
Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living
Salvation Army Stan Hagen Centre for Families
Sea to Sky Community Services Society
Semiahmoo House Society
Shuswap Association for Community Living
Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)
Sisters of St. Ann Social Justice Committee
Slocan Valley Seniors Housing Society
Social Planning and Research Council BC (SPARC)
Society for Children and Youth of BC
Society of Intravenous Drug Users - S.O.L.I.D.
Spectrum Society for Community Living
St. John the Divine, Victoria
St. Vincent de Paul, Victoria
STEPS Forward
Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living
Terrace and District Community Services Society
Thompson Community Services
Thompson Okanagan Community Services Co-operative
Together Against Poverty Society
Trail FAIR Society
Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health
Vancity Community Foundation
Vancouver and District Labour Council
Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society (VPWAS)
Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG)
Vela Microboard Association of BC
Victoria Disability Resource Centre
Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society - VIRCS
Victoria Native Friendship Centre
Victoria Youth Clinic
Williams Lake Association for Community Living
Women Against Violence Against Women – Rape Crisis Center (WAVAW)

c. Hon. Mike de Jong, MLA, Minister of Finance
Hon. Michelle Stilwell, MLA, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation
John Horgan, MLA, Leader of the Opposition
Michelle Mungall, MLA Nelson – Creston

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