Program delays hurt Victorians in need
All Ron Kinch really wants to do is ride the bus. Yet the 65-year-old disabled man can’t afford the monthly pass offered by BC Transit. Never fear, the federal government has a subsidy program that can take care of that — but with a wait that could reach one to two years. Now, Kinch is caught in a time loop along with other unsuspecting Victoria pensioners.
“The upsetting thing is, we’re seeing this more and more with older members of our community,” says Kelly Newhook, executive director of Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS). “When everything’s accounted for, there isn’t always enough money left for the bus, but for some people that can mean the difference between getting out in the world and being cut off from it.”
Kinch, a low-income Victorian, was receiving the designated amount for federal disability assistance, which also allowed him a subsidized bus pass. As with all Canadians, when he turned 65, Kinch’s previous assistance was rolled into general Old Age Security (OAS) and a Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), regardless of his disabilities.
He now qualifies for the federal Bus Pass Program — at a fee of $45 a calendar year, as opposed to the BC Transit senior pass of $52 per month. But while Kinch has qualified for the pass since his birthday last September, he won’t start receiving his subsidized pass until this July due to a processing error and “staffing delays” wherein the government would not be able to prove Kinch’s income qualifications until his July GIS statement.
Meanwhile, Kinch is left to get around town on foot, which proves difficult due to his mobility issues, or spend money on transit passes that he can’t afford.
“Sometimes, I explain my situation to the bus drivers and some will let me hop on board, but it’s an exhausting story and often seems like too much trouble to bother,” says Kinch. “I’m into month nine, with more months to go of insane excuses before Ottawa confirms my poverty to the minister of social development so that a bus pass can be issued.”
TAPS does offer a handful of free day bus passes to those in need on a first-come, first-serve basis, but Newhook says there is always more demand than the group can keep up with. As complicated as Kinch’s case sounds, Victoria MP Denise Savoie says his situation is more common than many would think.
“A lot of people do apply for the Bus Pass Program when they are 64 because of the wait times,” says Savoie. “You can only do so much when the federal government says ‘no’ and, unfortunately, there is a gap there in the time it takes them to say ‘yes’.”
In the time that Kinch has spent waiting for the subsidized pass, more bad luck has hit the pensioner. In part because of the money he spent on regular passes, along with mounting bills as he adjusts to his new income-assistance amount, he was unable to pay April rent for his subsidized apartment until nearly the end of the month and is now being evicted from his unit.
“Victoria’s disabled population is the most vulnerable, and we’re the ones who are being overlooked and cast aside the most,” says Kinch. “I’ve been a Canadian citizen my whole life, I’ve given back to my country.”
Jim Franklin, president of Action Committee Of People With Disabilities, says he has met many people with disabilities who have fallen through holes in the social safety net due to inadequate or conflicting income assistance.
“For [some], life has meant using up their life savings and selling their assets, just so that they may acquire the health-care goods and services they need, just to function day to day,” Franklin says. “Once these people have gone through their savings and sold all their assets … many people rely on credit cards, putting themselves deeper into debt. For those without credit, they borrow from their friends and family; making the person with a disability feel like a burden. I have had people in my office declaring that they would rather be dead than be put in such a situation.”
Just as with TAPS limited free bus passes, Franklin says the committee can only do so much to help — what really needs to happen is a call to government from everyone in Kinch’s situation.
“What can I and the Action Committee of People with Disabilities do about this issue? By ourselves, nothing. But there is power in numbers,” Franklin says. “I know there are many more people who are in [this kind of] financial bind … Together, we can petition the government to make changes in legislation.” M