NLIS 8
November 19, 2002
(Human Resources and Employment)

 

Income and Employment Support Act introduced in House of Assembly

Ralph Wiseman, Minister of Human Resources and Employment, today tabled a bill entitled the Income and Employment Support Act in the House of Assembly. The new act would replace the outdated Social Assistance Act which has not been reviewed in its entirety since 1977.

Minister Wiseman said: "After almost a year of planning, community consultations and review we have produced a bill which provides a legal framework better reflecting the departmentís programs and services. While the current Social Assistance Act focuses primarily on passive income support measures, the Income and Employment Support Act reflects the two key responsibilities of the department: provision of income support in a stable and dignified manner to eligible individuals and families; and delivery of programs and services that support individuals to achieve their employment and career goals."

"This is a bill of firsts. Components such as a preamble, explicit service principles, and provisions for regular reviews of both income support rates and of the legislation are seen here for the first time. The bill also makes provision for the appeal of employment support services in the same manner as appeals were provided for in income support decisions. Provision has been made to appoint a client or former client to the appeals board. Authority has been included to provide for innovative approaches as, for example, flexible income support. This is an act which draws basic principles from an extensive consultation process with the persons and organizations most closely affected by our programs. This proposed act will ensure that our income support and employment programs remain consistent with the changing needs and priorities of the people we serve."

In January 2002, the Department of Human Resources and Employment commenced the first ever public consultation on this major social program by releasing Investing in People: New Directions for Social Assistance Legislation. This 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. The findings of this review were released as a Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act in August 2002. The department used these findings to help in drafting the Income and Employment Support Act.

Minister Wiseman added: "This feedback from the community guided in the drafting of this legislation so that it both reflects the current directions for programs and services of my department and embodies particular approaches to income and employment support programs that were recommended during our consultation process.

"The Income and Employment Support Act is a great example of how the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is leading the way in social policy. As with governmentís Strategic Social Plan, emphasis has been placed on being responsive to the overall needs and concerns of the people of this province. In turn, the proposed bill also ensures we continue to move forward in our priority of assisting and supporting people as they prepare for, attain and maintain employment while providing equitable supports for those who are unable to work."

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

 

BACKGROUNDER
Consultation and Consultation Report

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.

Investing in People was available to the public at district and provincial offices and on the internet. The guide was also made available on audio tape. About 650 stakeholders were sent the discussion paper with an invitation to supply feedback, with the remainder distributed through district and provincial offices. A cheque insert advised clients of the review in mid-January.

50 sessions province-wide were conducted with community agencies, clients, staff, youth, Strategic Social Plan Steering Committees, and other government departments.

  • Responses 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 intent of the 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

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 had diverse opinions 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.

 

BACKGROUNDER
Key Changes and Next Steps

Language has been updated and simplified to reflect todayís society as well as the major goals and lines of business of the Department of Human Resources and Employment.

Incorporation of provisions relating to both Income Support and Employment and Career Services.

  • Legislation reflects more accurately the new directions and objectives of programs and services pursued by the department in recent years. The holistic approach of combining income support with employment and career service to assist people in preparing for and maintaining employment is now, for the first time, outlined in legislation.
  • The purpose of income support includes not only the provision of basic social assistance, but recognizes the role of income support programs in supporting such client groups as persons needing supports to maintain attachment to the labour force, low income working families and persons who are victims of violence.
  • Employment support programs and services have been defined to include a range of services to assist eligible persons to access employment and training; the provision of grants to community agencies to provide employment services; the provision of funding to employers to offer employment experience and on-the-job training; and recognizes the additional supports that may be required by persons with disabilities for the inclusion and accommodation of their unique needs.

Inclusion of a preamble and service principles

  • The preamble sets out six overarching statements relating to the rationale of the legislation, including general social policy goals and specific statements on Income Support, Employment Support, employment barriers for persons with disabilities, service delivery and community partnerships. This links the legislation to the broad social policy goals of the provinceís Strategic Social Plan.
  • The service principles mandate accountability through regular review of legislation; access to individualized, timely service, considering applicantsí unique circumstances and needs, as departmental resources permit; access to legislation, policies and procedures; and provision of services to clients according to standards of service. Most importantly, clients and potential clients are now provided with a formal assurance of the service standards they can expect from the department.

Mandated Regular Reviews

  • Innovative provisions for income support rate reviews every three years
  • Reviews of the act and regulations every five years
  • For the first time government is held accountable for assessing on a regular basis whether the basic income support rates and legislation adequately reflect the current and future needs of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Privacy/Confidentiality Provisions

  • Privacy and confidentiality provisions important in the income and employment support context are included, such as clientsí right to see their file and request corrections, and the departmentís ability to verify information for eligibility assurance purposes.
  • The bill is consistent with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
  • Provides clients with an understanding of how information provided to the department is used.
  • The requirement for client consent for verification of information for eligibility purposes is now contained in legislation.

Integrated Appeals Procedures

  • In addition to the appeal of income support decisions, provision is now made for appeal of eligibility, suspension and cancellation of employment support services.
  • Inclusion of a client or former client as a member of the appeal board.
  • Inclusion of appropriate time lines for hearing of internal reviews and appeals
  • With the appeals provisions now incorporated in the bill, clients now have one legislative source in which to refer when there is a disagreement over a departmental decision.

Flexible Income Support

  • For the first time provides the department with the ability to support a clientís employment plan through the flexible use of income support monies. It will enable income support to be advanced, under certain conditions to be specified in regulations, to assist the client with the resources needed to implement a personal plan aimed at moving to self-reliance. This will only be done at the clientís request.
  • Consent of the recipientís spouse or cohabiting partner will usually be required, although the minister may, in exceptional circumstances, dispense with the consent of the spouse or partner.

Clear Underpayment/Overpayment Remedies

  • Introduction of six year time frame for the calculation of underpayments (currently six months), the calculation of overpayments and starting an action to recover overpayments.
  • Bill clearly specifies the methods the department uses to recover overpayments so clients are more fully informed and are aware of the areas of recourse available to them, if they are subject to collection action.

Updated Penalty Provisions

  • Imprisonment has been removed from the penalties section.
  • The maximum fine is increased from $200 to $1,000.

Repealed legislation

  • Bill repeals the Social Assistance Act and the Social Services Appeal Board Act and now incorporates appeals provisions.
  • Repeals the Rehabilitation Act, with aspects of that act relating to the department addressed by the bill.
  • Appeals for Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities (EAPD) matters formerly addressed by the Rehabilitation Act, and administered by this department or the Department of Health and Community Services, will be heard by the appeal board under the proposed act.
  • The Civil Legal Aid regulations, Social Assistance regulations, and Home Support regulations are repealed

Next Steps

  • In the coming months, the department will be drawing on the results of the consultations and continuing to communicate with community partners, as it drafts regulations and updates policy to conform with this proposed act.
  • Service standards will be developed.
  • If the bill is assented to, it will be proclaimed upon completion of this work .

2002 11 19                                         5:05 p.m. 


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