NLIS 1
August 5, 2002
(Human Resources and Employment)

 

Minister announces consultation findings

Ralph Wiseman, Minister of Human Resources and Employment, released today the Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act. The report is a summary of the departmentís community consultations concerning the review of the Social Assistance Act and Regulations. The findings from these consultations will assist the Department of Human Resources and Employment as it drafts the new legislation.

In January 2002, the Department of Human Resources and Employment released Investing in People: New Directions for Social Assistance Legislation. This discussion paper represented the first ever public consultation on this major social program that directly impacts a significant proportion of the provinceís citizens. It contained information on the current income support and employment and career programs and posed questions for discussion. Public response from across the province was obtained through focus groups, telephone calls, e-mails, letters and briefs.

"I would like to thank all participants for not only their time, but also for their diverse views. This consultation process underscores the fact that community partner and client participation is fundamental to understanding the issues that need to be addressed. The intent was to solicit views in order to help draft the new Social Assistance Act, but we expected and received feedback on all aspects of the departmentís programs," said Minister Wiseman. "The Department of Human Resources and Employment will be taking this feedback very seriously when drafting the new legislation and shaping programs in the future."

Over the past few years, the Department of Human Resources and Employment has continued to make changes to income support, in both the programs offered and the means of their delivery, to better meet the needs of clients. These improvements include extending drug benefits for clients entering into the workforce, having both social assistance families and low income working families receive the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit and enabling support trusts to be set up for persons with disabilities.

"These previous initiatives, together with the proposed introduction of a new Social Assistance Act reinforces the departmentís commitment to improve its responsiveness to the clients we serve, subject to available resources. The consultation process confirmed that we must continue addressing the issues surrounding income support," said Minister Wiseman. "Both the department and government remain committed to introducing legislation which incorporates the concerns and priorities of those individuals who use our services."

The new legislation is expected to be introduced in the fall session of the House of Assembly.

Those interested in viewing the Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act can do so by visiting the departmentís Web site (www.gov.nl.ca/hre/).

 

BACKGROUNDERS
Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act

  • The current Social Assistance Act and Regulations was enacted in 1977; this is the first major review.
  • The Department of Human Resources and Employment was established in 1997 to place greater emphasis on assisting people to prepare for, find and maintain employment, in addition to ensuring dignified income support for those in need. Legislation needs to be revised to reflect this goal.
  • The departmentís income support program has expanded in recent years to include supports for low income working families, in addition to those who require social assistance, with such initiatives as the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit and the Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement. These initiatives are key to reducing barriers to work.
  • The intent of this review was to seek feedback regarding the drafting of new legislation that better reflects the departmentís current goals and vision.
  • The views presented during the consultation process reflected a wide range of opinions. People most closely affected by Human Resources and Employmentís programs identified their major areas of concerns and priorities. A summary of the key messages from the consultation process can be found in The Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act (pages 14-20).
  • The key messages included:

    Adequacy of the Income Support Program
    While participants noted that some improvements have been made for families who receive social assistance, they stressed the need to adjust social assistance rates to better reflect the cost of living.

    Barriers to Work/Supports to Employment
    The consultation process confirmed that there continue to be significant barriers for clients who wish to leave the social assistance program for employment. Participants stressed the need to "make work pay" before many people could make the move from social assistance to work.

    Partnerships
    Participants stressed the need for the department to have a broad, long-term vision based on assisting clients to participate fully in their communities, not simply alleviating financial distress. Linkages with related services and community agencies were identified as important to address the root causes of poverty.

    Meeting the Needs of Persons with Disabilities
    Equal rights for persons with disabilities was identified as key, as was the promotion of inclusive and accessible benefits, programs and services. The issue of transportation and the need to address disability related expenses associated with going to work were among the issues raised.

    Provision of Income Support With Dignity
    Easier access to information about programs, services and benefits was a concern raised by participants with general support for less intrusive and more dignified ways of delivering social assistance. Participants cited concerns about the quality of services and identified a need for departmental workers to be sensitive to individual client needs; clients must have a safe and secure means of giving feedback about service and programs.

    Mandatory or Voluntary Participation in Employment and Career Planning
    Participants were divided on the issue of whether clients should have the option of choosing to participate in employment and career planning as a requirement of receiving social assistance. Strong arguments were put forward on both sides of this issue.

    Youth
    Participants expressed a desire for increased focus on the needs and concerns of youth to ensure their successful transition to employment. There was a divergence of opinion on the issue of requiring youth to participate in active training and support measures to prepare for the labour market as a condition of receiving social assistance.

    Priority for Employment and Career Supports
    A majority stated that youth and social assistance recipients should be a priority for employment and career supports (as opposed to the general public) with other groups identified for priority as single parents and persons with disabilities.

    Accountability
    A significant consensus emerged on the rights and responsibilities on the part of the department (privacy and confidentiality, providing service with dignity, meeting basic needs, access to information in plain language and alternate formats) and for the client (providing accurate information, respect for staff, the pursuit of self-sufficiency).

    Appeals
    Suggestions for improving the departmentís appeals process included having a past or present client on the appeal board, improving access to information about the appeals process, and providing a client advocate for appellants.

     

Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act - Consultation Participants

  • On January 7, 2002, the Minister of Human Resources and Employment announced a review of the Social Assistance Act and released a discussion guide, Investing in People.
  • There were approximately 3,000 copies of Investing in People distributed and the guide was posted on the departmental Internet site as well.
  • There were 650 copies sent directly to community groups and delivery agencies and the remainder of copies was distributed through district and provincial offices.
  • Clients were advised of the review through a cheque insert in mid-January.
  • The guide was also made available on audio tapes.
  • Some 50 sessions province-wide were conducted with community agencies, clients, staff, youth and other government departments.
  • Feedback from the guide was gathered from a number of sources which included:
  • Internet responses: 23
  • Hits to Legislative Review website: 1,100
  • E-mail responses:10
  • Letters: 51
  • Workbooks: 58
  • Toll-free telephone: 106 total calls (20 responses to discussion paper or questions about the review, 86 requests for the document)
  • Presentations: 3
  • Briefs/Community Group Submissions: 26
  • Regional Strategic Social Plan sessions: 6
  • Client Focus Group participants: 64
  • Community Focus Group participants: 125 from 75 organizations.

The new legislation is expected to be drafted and introduced in late 2002.

Media contact: Simon Lono, Communications, (709) 729-4062.

2002 08 05                                11:40 a.m.


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