Thursday, June 02, 2016

BC Liberals: Poverty pushers for BC citizens with disabilities

Provincial clawbacks relegate the disabled to life of poverty

Amy Jane Brown, or A.J. as she prefers to be called, is an accomplished artist, once a teenage ballerina, an advocate and a poster girl for the amazing abilities of those members of the community we categorize as “people with disabilities.”

That categorization is just a self-serving way of soft-soaping discrimination by providing an identifying label — although A.J. defies labels.

A.J. was born in Vancouver 50 years ago. She lives with the consequences of a birth accident which rendered her deaf. She has cerebral palsy, a condition which has left her progressively more fatigued. She lives with the lingering after-effects of recurring surgeries to correct an idiopathic scoliosis, which is a lateral curvature of the spine.

These differences, she says, mean she’s treated differently by the very people who profess to want to treat her like every other citizen.

In spite of astonishing accomplishments, she subsists on a tiny income that’s made even smaller by provincial government clawbacks of federal benefits. The benefits are supposed to make life easier for people coping with disabilities that ensure little prospect they will ever enjoy incomes most of us take for granted. 

There’s discrimination and there’s discrimination. Acknowledging differences is one thing. Punishing people for their differences is entirely another.

Like the Wizard of Oz, politicians are all about grand mission statements, uplifting rhetoric and high-mindedness as they promise route maps down the Golden Brick Road to the Emerald City. But behind the carefully constructed curtain of tinsel and sham, what’s at work is a con job serving the grubby principles of judgmental parsimony for the already poor.

I wanted to introduce A.J. to Vancouver Sun readers because — and I admit my occasional complicity — one of the problems with writing about provincial governments, bureaucracies, policy analysis and the politicians who enable policy on the public’s behalf is how often we cloak ourselves in statistics.

Statistics are a convenient way for those of us in the mainstream to distance ourselves from the realities of the actual human beings affected and marginalized by abstract decisions.

That’s certainly the case for commentary about people with disabilities who are affected, in many cases hurt, by government policies that are clearly discriminatory — although government almost always denounces discrimination, even while those on the receiving end of discriminatory policy beg to differ.

As a person and a mind, she attended Balmoral Hall, a school for girls in Winnipeg, then Carson Graham Secondary in Vancouver. As a high school student, her favourite subjects were geography — she was fascinated by topography and how land elevations affect weather — and mathematics.

She earned a bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

“I chose Gallaudet because it was, at the time, the only university that would teach deaf people. Nearly everyone used sign language. It was a whole new world for me.” And for her mother. “Mom freaked because she said it was the murder capital of the U.S.”

 A.J. majored in English literature with a minor in music. It was a struggle. Her five years at university were spent in a powered wheelchair because that’s how long recovery from the spinal surgery took.

She graduated in 1990. Then came the real test — finding a way to support herself despite her disabilities. Nobody, it seems, was much interested in accommodating A.J.’s differences. She went back to school at Capilano College and took business courses, then took more business training at Open Learning University.

“By this time it was getting harder to speak. So, being understood was becoming more hard to do. I was getting to the point where all I could do was point and grunt. I didn’t want to be a cave woman.” Technology intervened. Now she uses her iPad to write what she wants to say.

It took five years, but A.J. did find a job. She then worked for eight years, first doing data entry at the Surrey Tax Centre, later sorting mail for Canada Post, paying taxes and contributing to her Canada Pension Plan like most other working people. But fatigue and her physical condition eventually took their toll.

She now subsists on combined federal and provincial disability benefits. With no clawbacks, those benefits would total $1,450 a month, $544 from CPP and $906 from B.C. But the province reduces its payment by the amount she gets from CPP and instead contributes only $342. This the province characterizes as “topping up” her CPP, although it reduces her monthly benefit to $886.

A.J. has to deduct her monthly rent — she’s lucky enough to be in subsidized housing — from her monthly disability benefits, leaving her $546 a month on which to live. This is about half the average monthly income in Botswana. It’s about 15 per cent of the average monthly wage in Canada. B.C., it seems, expects people with disabilities like A.J. to live on third world incomes in one of the more expensive cities in the first world.  

“It is really punitive being on the B.C. disability,” she observes. “I thought, as the name suggests, disability assistance, that would be income on top of what I earn. I feel lied to. I thought it was basic income. But it comes with severe limits.

“I feel like this is a bad experiment gone wrong. I have difficult choices on what to eat. I’ve heard of old women living from cat food because that’s what they can afford. I sure hope that won’t be me!”

Any fair-minded person might see this as discrimination directed specifically at people with disabilities because of their disabilities, regardless of government’s self-serving Orwellian definitions of clawbacks and discounted benefits as generous top-ups.

“Yes, you bet I’m discriminated against. I’m a woman, first off,” says A.J. “I’m deaf so that is another cubbyhole. Additional is my cerebral palsy and my back. The more things that are ‘wrong’ with a person, the more cubbyholes there are.”

“I don’t get ANY of my CPP disability,” she says. “The B.C. government helps itself to that money. It’s plain thievery. It’s disheartening to have it gone, when I should have it.”

The limited income means difficult choices. She passes on lunch with friends. She doesn’t go for the physiotherapy she would like because at $75 a visit the cost is too high. She cancelled cable TV and its closed caption programming because it cost too much — why haven’t our cheapskate politicians designated closed caption TV an essential service for the deaf since it’s the only effective universal emergency communication service they can easily access? 

Yet A.J. lives frugally so that she can save enough each month to cover tuition for one art course at Emily Carr each term. The total cost of her art courses for the year is less than Premier Christy Clark earns for one day of swanning around at photo ops.

It’s not likely A.J. will ever be invited to one of those face-to-face power dinners with the premier that prove so popular with our business elites, but if she could, here’s what she’d inform Premier Clark:

“You do know that clawing back CPP and other sources of income (for people with disabilities) is abuse, don’t you? Clawing back, or stealing, or deducting the money is wrong and should stop. Please stop deducting.”

BC Liberals Play Politics with Kids Education in BC

Horgan: “It’s an odd way to run a public education system”

Shane Woodford (May 31, 2016). CKNW.
The leader of the B.C. NDP says the B.C. Liberal government is blatantly trying to buy back votes with its recent education funding announcements.
“The classic example is taking with one hand and then giving it back just before the election.”
John Horgan says the 11th hour timing of today’s education announcement, giving back $25-million of the $54-million the province mandated school districts find, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

“Now all of the tough decisions have been made by school districts. They have gone through very difficult budget processes. They have declared certain schools are about to be closed and then the province comes at the 11th hour, and drops a little tiny bit of money in the bucket that won’t even come close to solving the problem. It is an odd way to run a public education system.”
He says the funding announcement is not about the kids, but rather politics for the Christy Clark government.
“You have got this giving back of money that just a week ago, just a week ago, the Minister of Education said was not going to happen is a true indication that the government is clearly having difficulty. They are blanketing the airwaves with feel good ads paid for by taxpayers, because their polls are telling them they are doing very very poorly.”
Horgan says it was also about bolstering the election chances for MLAs Coralee Oakes, Dan Ashton, and Linda Larson in Quesnel, Osoyoos, aand Penticton where the funding was announced simultaneously.