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Kamloops News

BEPPLE: Giving with one hand and taking with the other

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
August 18, 2016 - 12:04 PM



There aren't many people in B.C. who receive a disability pension from the province. About 104,000 out of 4.6 million do, that's about two per cent of the province. In Kamloops, that's about 2,000 people.

At two per cent of the population, it shouldn't be too hard to do a reasonable job ensuring people with disabilities are provided for. 

Despite the low number of people receiving a disability pension (PWD), the Liberal government froze the month disability rates to $906 per month for the last nine years. Somehow fiscal restraint was best applied on the backs of those least able to work.

Finally, in the spring of 2016, after nine years, the B.C. Liberals raised the PWD rates by $77 per month. The increase was welcome news, even if it was well below the rate of inflation for the past nine years.

But for about half the people receiving PWD, the increase of $77 per month really turned out to be only $25 per month. That's because while the B.C. Liberal government gave with one hand, and took away with another. 

Previously, people receiving disability could purchase a $45 yearly transit pass. About half the people receiving PWD signed up for the transit pass. The pass gave someone on PWD the ability to get out, to go shopping, to go to appointments, to visit friends, to do things all of us do.

Now, the government announced people on a PWD pension would have to pay $52 per month for a bus pass. So, a monthly increase of $77 turned into $25.

With neo-Liberal logic, the explanation was that now people had the choice of where they spent the money. It was more fair to people who didn't have access to transit. Cold comfort after almost a decade of no increases to PWD as food, rent and other costs increased.

Giving people the choice between buying food and being able to take a bus to the grocery store, doctor's office or a friend's house isn't a really a choice. Even without the transit claw back, the increase doesn't keep up with inflation. To be able to pay for all the other increases in food and rent on $25 and still pay for a monthly transit pass is unrealistic.

Only about half of people receiving PWD would purchase the $45 yearly bus pass. The B.C. Liberal's logic was that not all of them could take transit so none of them should receive a yearly pass. 

There are many programs only available or utilized by some but not all. B.C. Ferries provides discounts on some, but not all ferry routes with the purchase of an "experience card."

Think of the outrage if people with the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route were told they couldn't use the experience card anymore because people on other ferry routes didn't have access to it.

The City of Kamloops provides discounted passes to the TCC for people on low incomes. Not every low income person in Kamloops purchases one of the passes. Using the B.C. Liberal logic, TCC discounted pass should be eliminated and all the people on low income should be given a stipend.

It's true that not everyone in B.C. lives where there's transit, but the vast majority do. There is transit from the largest centre of Metro Vancouver to the smallest towns like Clinton and Chase. 

Arguing that a government program shouldn't be provided unless it's available to everyone in every possible location would eliminate all sorts of programs.

If you're living on $906, transit is often the only option. Some people can't afford any other way to get around. They can't afford to drive. They can't afford taxis. For others, transit is the only option because they can't drive. They have physical limitations such as blindness, or MS or a cognitive disability.

There are two per cent of people in B.C. receiving disability benefits from the province. One per cent used the yearly passes, that's less than 1,000 in Kamloops.

Small numbers, but for those few, losing their transit pass is a big deal.

— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.

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