December 7, 2001
(Human Resources and Employment)


Government committed to reducing child poverty in province

Gerald Smith, Minister of Human Resources and Employment, today stated his strong objections to recent Opposition criticism concerning government’s response to the issue of child poverty in the province. In doing so, Minister Smith took the opportunity to reiterate government’s commitment to addressing the issue as demonstrated by the significant range of initiatives undertaken in recent years.

"Wednesday’s Resolution in the House of Assembly relating to this issue was introduced by the Opposition and government not only welcomed the opportunity to debate this issue but also voted to support the motion being carried by the House," said Minister Smith. "During the debate, the Opposition did acknowledge that government had introduced some very worthwhile programs to address poverty, calling upon us to further expand these efforts. Government is fully committed to ongoing action on the issue of child poverty and will continue to make these programs a priority within available resources."

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recognizes that we need to be concerned about the high rate of child poverty in this province. However, the most recent statistics are for the year 1999. Since then the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has made significant progress with the introduction of prevention and early intervention programs, which in time, should be reflected in future statistics.

Minister Smith cited a number of areas of improvement which he believes will have a direct impact on child poverty over time. These include:

The province has recorded strong employment growth on a year over year basis for every month in 2001. Average monthly employment is up by 6,800 since the start of the year as compared to 2000, the highest since the early 1990s.

  • Along with an improving economy, the social assistance caseload is the lowest it has been in almost a decade. There has also been a decrease of the number of children on the social assistance caseload, indicating improving income levels for families.

  • Considerable emphasis has been placed on redesigning the social assistance program to remove disincentives that prevent people from participating in the labour market.

  • In line with these improvements, government introduced the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit (NLCB) to extend benefits to low income families and children including working families. Approximately 21,000 families a year now receive provincial child benefits as compared to approximately 12,000 two years ago.

  • In addition, extended drug card benefits, increased earnings exemptions and increased private child care rates, are now part of the redesigned income support program.

  • Under the National Child Benefit reinvestment initiatives, this province invests an additional $10 million of new monies annually in supportive programs for families and children. In addition, in June, government announced a $36.6 million, five year Early Childhood Development Initiative, in cooperation with the federal government to further increase the availability and range of these programs.

  • These investments have contributed to a significant improvement in the level and quality of services available to children and families.

  • The number of available subsidies for licensed child care services has increased substantially. The subsidy budget has gone from $4 million in 1997-1998, to $6.2 million in 2000-2001, and to $7.2 million in 2001-2002. Development has commenced on infant child care and licensed family child care.

  • On December 3, government announced the details of an expanded Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement that will cover families on social assistance as well as low income working families, aimed at supporting maternal and child health.

  • Additional funding to Healthy Baby Clubs and creation of six new Family Resource Centres in addition to enhancing existing family resource programs.

  • Further initiatives include early childhood literacy programs, expansion of family resource centres (resulting in 74 centres across the province), healthy baby clubs, increased child care support, and early intervention services for children with developmental disabilities and children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  • The province provided the School Children’s Food Foundation with an initial endowment of $1.0 million. This level of funding was to provide the foundation with core funding for a five-year period. An additional $1.0 million was provided to the foundation in 1998 to service the needs of Labrador.

"While government recognizes we still have much work to do to eradicate poverty, we have made significant progress," said Minister Smith. "The programs we have introduced are consistent with the commitments made in the Strategic Social Plan and the Strategy for Jobs and Growth. Government is committed to continued progress."

Media contact: Paul Power, Communications, (709) 729-4062.

2001 12 07                             5:15 p.m.

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