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BC Budget 2017

Summary: 
The BC government tabled its 2017 budget on February 21, 2017. Inclusion BC has summarized issues relevant to our four priority areas.

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Learn more about our four priority areas:

Our vision for 2017: Investing in social infrastructure 

Background: Inclusion BC believes that building a strong and resilient province requires investment now in human capital and social infrastructure as the top priority, thereby ensuring that the fruits of prosperity are shared by all, so all British Columbians have a stake in working together to advance socioeconomic progress.

BC has suffered too long from a compassion deficit. In a time of prosperity and unprecedented fiscal surplus, it is time to put people first, to lead the way in demonstrating respect for diversity, and to make BC a province where we all truly feel like we belong.

Changes for 2017

1. Income security: PWD benefits & employment programs

Background: In 2014, BC promised to make BC the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024 (Read Accessibility 2024). This commitment includes a promise to raise PWD benefit rates as government's fiscal situation allows. 

Today, 107,000 British Columbians struggle to live on PWD benefits of $983/month--not enough to cover even basic needs for food, housing and transportation.

A recent study by University of Victoria professor Michael Prince looked at the effects of inflation on disability rates that have been largely frozen since 2007. (Read the report here.) 

Inclusion BC has urged BC to raise PWD rates immediately to $1,200/month, with future indexing to inflation, to reverse the negative effects of inflation after many years of no increases.

BC Budget 2017 changes: On February 17, the BC government announced that PWD rates would increase on April 1, 2017 by $50/month to a maximum of $1,033/month.

In presenting the Budget on February 21, Finance Minister Michael De Jong encouraged community leaders to continue to advocate for additional increases in PWD rates. In most BC communities, PWD benefits only cover about 60% of the actual cost of basic living needs, according to the Prince report. 

Employment programs: The 2017 Budget did not indicate any new targetted funding to improve employment programs for people with developmental disabilities who rely on PWD benefits as their sole source of income but who are ready, willing and able to work. 

2. Community Living BC

Background: Many adults with developmental disabilities need residential, life skills, employment and other supports to live safe, healthy and productive lives and to participate as full citizens. But too many British Columbians are still being denied this fundamental right. Young people still fall into a “black hole” when they turn 19 and leave school because adult supports aren’t there. Families, who support most adults with developmental disabilities in BC, struggle to access programs intended to assist them.

Inclusion BC has urged immediate investment in Community Living BC to close the chronic funding gap for supports to adults with disabilities and their families. 

Inclusion BC has also called for CLBC to improve its public reporting, including waitlists and other service gaps, and for an independent, collaborative, external and transparent review of CLBC to ensure it has the governance, resources and capacity to seize opportunities and address future challenges.  

BC Budget 2017 changes: For 2017, CLBC will receive a $54 million budget increase, a welcome boost that will help the provincial agency respond to expected growth in the number of adults with developmental disabilities requiring residential and community inclusion supports for the coming year. However, CLBC's 3-year budget did not address other key challenges, including ongoing cost pressures, growing complexity of needs, accumulated backlog of unmet needs and expected growth in the number of people requiring support in future years. (Read our joint press release with community partners.)  

The number of adults requiring CLBC supports has grown by 5 - 6% annually in recent years and CLBC expects that trend to continue. The 2017/18 budget increase reflects that trend. However, budgets for the next two years (2018/19 and 2019/20) will only grow by 0.5% and 1% respectively, far below projected growth in the number of people to be served by CLBC.

“The funding gap creates severe stresses for community agencies and families who support people with developmental disabilities, in some cases resulting in acute crises,” noted Inclusion BC's Executive Director Faith Bodnar. 

Inclusion BC has urged an independent review of CLBC in light of challenges that include growing costs for aging adults and more complex needs including mental health, homelessness and addiction. “When people with developmental disabilities are forced to live in poverty, their challenges reflect those common to all people struggling with poverty,” Bodnar added. 

5. Inclusive Education

Background: An inclusive world starts with inclusive schools. Research shows that all students benefit from inclusive education. But more students with special needs are finding their needs unmet in our public schools. Too many are no longer welcome at their local schools, excluded from regular classes, subjected to restraints or seclusion, or sent home due to lack of supports. Many families are forced to pay for education privately, often in poorly-supervised, segregated “special education” programs.

Provincial special education funding for independent schools has tripled in the past 5 years, as supports for students with special needs in public schools has continued to lag student enrolment. And in 2016, BC broke a 25-year commitment to inclusive public education by establishing 9 new segregated special education schools that require families to pay privately. (Read our press releases here and here)

Inclusion BC welcomed BC's commitment to move promptly to implement the 2016 Supreme Court ruling ordering the reinstatement of education supports lost since 2002. We urged that this commitment be matched by adequate resources and a process that supports real partnerships to rebuild inclusive education. This includes emphasis on school boards' responsibility to move promptly to analyze staffing gaps and address recruitment and training needs. (Read our press release)

Inclusion BC has also urged the province to reverse its new policy of promoting segregated Special Education Schools and to invest in specialized capacity in public schools instead.

BC Budget 2017 changes: 

The 2017/18 budget increase for public schools will cover expected enrolment increases, eliminate school bus fees and contribute to the cost of implementing the new provincial K-12 curriculum. If MSP premiums are eliminated next January, this would also provide savings for school boards (which cover costs for their employees from base enrolment funding).

Implementing the fall 2016 Supreme Court ruling: The Ministry provided an addtional $50 million to school boards in January to start restoring positions such as special education teachers and librarians that were lost after the Ministry stripped staffing ratios from the teachers' contract in 2002. This initial investment was also annualized in the February budget. In addition, the provincial government set aside a $400 million contingency fund to cover further costs of restoring non-enrolling staff, subject to agreement with the BC Teachers Federation on a new contract for the 2017 school year.

Analysis: With a provincial election approaching, it is likely that the provincial government and teachers will resolve a new contract for teachers pretty quickly, to allow school boards to plan their 2017/18 budgets and staffing needs with a minimum of chaos. If the new contract restores the 2002 staffing ratios, this suggests a significant boost in the number of special education resource teacher positions. The immediate question would be how to find, train and fill those positions in a very short time. This will require strong leadership from school districts in undertaking prompt gap analysis and engaging with the public and provincial authorities to ensure they have the supports they need. Longer term, it's expected that the province and teachers will negotiate an updated version of the 2002 contract. While those negotiations are bilateral, there may be a broader opportunity to explore what an updated staffing framework to support inclusive education should look like in BC's public schools.     

4. Early Childhood Intervention

Background: Recent work by Inclusion BC and provincial partners showed that some 5,000 BC preschoolers with special needs are waiting for critical Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services. To resolve this, we wrote the BC Premier urging:

  • Immediate investment of $15 million in new dollars for Ministry for Children & Family Development CYSN services in 2017-18, with additional increases of $10 million annually for the next two fiscal years and future CYSN budgets indexed to inflation.
  • A collaborative process involving government to work in partnership with ECI sector leaders and others to address broader policy and structural challenges.

BC Budget 2017 changes: (Update pending)