Breaking the Silence: Welfare

By Nicole Beaver

Brought to recent controversy regarding cases of people who apparently don’t require “handouts,” the welfare state and associated social programs are seen by many as either a benefit or a drawback. Some see it as a necessity to maintain something of a stable life, while others are adamant that it’s going to so-called scabs and moochers. Whatever your case may be, the truth of the matter is some people require these programs to be able to function in society. The basics of this are that these programs, many of which were introduced in the 1960s, transfer money and services to Canadians to deal with an array of needs. These needs include, but are not limited to the following: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, immigration, aging, illness, workplace injury, disability, and the needs of children/women/gay/lesbian/transgender people.

The case for these being a necessity began with the indoctrination of our first modern welfare act as a country began in 1914 with the Workmen’s Compensation Act of Ontario. With this act, injured workers in Ontario could claim a regular cash income as a right since they could not provide income for themselves or their families. Ontario’s example was soon adapted by other provinces. The next set implemented was after WWI, when Old Age Pensions and allowances for civilian widows, deserted wives and their children, as well as family allowance was requested. In 1916, Manitoba was the first province to pass the Mothers’ Pensions Act to provide a small but assured income to widows and divorced or deserted wives with children to support — a group of people deemed the “worthy poor.” Within five years, all provinces west of Ontario had passed similar legislation called “public assistance.”

Later, programs to help the “worthy poor” included solidified Unemployment Insurance in 1940, The Medical Care Act in 1971, and the Canada Pension Plan of 1965. These are also the major and well-known of the national programs. Provincially, and fitting with this column’s theme, we, as Albertans, have programs like AISH (Assisted Income for the Severely Handicapped) and PDD (Persons with Developmental Disabilities). AISH was developed in 1979 and provides both financial and health-related assistance to eligible adult Albertans with a disability. AISH was the first program in the country designed for the permanently disabled. It was unique as there were no asset limits. Since AISH has more information on the proceedings and application procedures while also helping those with mental health issues and/or disabilities, it will be the main focus from here on.

To better understand why individuals may require something like a welfare program, I interviewed a few people I know, one of which is on a welfare program. Of course, all are anonymous and will not be revealed for personal reasons. In conducting my interview, I learned the following details about AISH:

  1. The application process for AISH is extremely long and very tedious. The paperwork for the application is almost fifteen pages long and requires an immense amount of information from numerous sources, both medical and financial.
  2. The application can take months to be reviewed and processed. The person on AISH had to wait approximately eight months for their paperwork to come back, and they were denied.  They were denied because apparently, their disabilities were not “severe” enough to qualify for the program.
  3. They had to go through an appeal process, the paperwork of which was also tedious and time-sensitive. A personal letter as to why they were appealing also had to be written and submitted. They had to wait another two to three months to receive any word of whether or not they were going to be allowed an appeal.
  4. After the appeal, they had to wait another three weeks to hear if they had won their appeal.
  5. When they were finally (and thankfully) accepted, they had to go to their nearest AISH office and within 30 days, do yet another few pieces of paperwork. They now must contact their case worker every time they do something such as move out of the city for the summer, or get a job, or develop a new health concern. Failure to do so results in suspension or expulsion.

Please note that this case is not exactly like other people who also are undergoing the application process. Another person I spoke to who has AISH already said that the response time was within 5 months and they were accepted immediately. So while many may question the validity of those who are on welfare programs, just by listening to their stories, it becomes apparent that getting into the programs is not as easy as some may think. Also, the extensive background checks in programs like AISH leave little room for some to lie about their current situation or condition. For criticism, however, is the question of whether or not something like drug addiction counts as a disability.

The answer to this is absolutely not clear cut. However, recently and controversially, the National Benefit Authority (NBA) of Canada has stated that “[some] qualify for disability benefits through the Canadian government to offset your treatment expenses.”

However, also stated on the NBA’s site is the following additional statement: “Claiming your disability tax credit won’t be easy; not only would you need to research your condition thoroughly, but you also need to determine whether you qualify for the Canadian Disability Tax Credit or similar disability benefits.” So despite this allowance, it can still be quite hard for someone with that affliction to receive benefits.

In closing, why someone may be on welfare or what they or on welfare for is really no one’s business but theirs. If they are on something such as AISH, for example, and seem to act “fine,” it is not anyone’s place to judge. As I will discuss in a future article, invisible illnesses/disabilities exist that affect everyday lives. If you are in need of a program such as one of the ones listed, I will tell you that it looks intimidating, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It could ultimately benefit you if your days are rougher due to hardships, both physical and financial. There is no shame in needing help. That’s what welfare is there for.

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