Laura Winters, CEO of Stella's Circle, says the provincial government listened to most concerns in its new poverty reduction plan but there's still work to do. (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC)
The dust is beginning to settle after the government of Newfoundland and Labrador's announced a new poverty reduction plan Wednesday, and advocates say the proof will be in the fine details of the plan, which are expected to roll out over the next few years.
Wednesday's announcement promised more funding for crucial social programs such as Newfoundland and Labrador child benefit payments and boosts to income support benefits — but advocates have concerns about the thresholds that people have to meet to qualify.
Laura Winters, CEO of Stella's Circle — an adult services community organization based in St. John's — told CBC News on Thursday the government appears to have listened to most concerns from groups like hers.
"For instance, there were different rates available to folks who might want to live with somebody else versus live alone in their own apartment, which I think is alarming given the housing crisis," Winters said.
"I think there was an unintended barrier placed in the policies whereby if folks wanted to live together some of their rental supplements are being clawed back."
But that won't be the case anymore, Winters said.
She said a living-alone allowance will be available to everyone who applies under the changes the government is bringing forward, but she also wants to see one more step taken.
"What we'd really like to see is indexing of income support rates so that they become increased with either cost of living or some other measure that's used," Winters said. "So we look forward to that for the future."
Single adults generally receive up to $561 — varying depending on whether they live with relatives — in rental income and a similar amount in a support supplement.
Neria Aylward, executive director of the Jimmy Pratt Foundation, says there's still a gap between families who can and can't apply for child benefits. (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC)
"Really we're talking about just around $1,000 a month to live off of for your rent, your groceries, everything. And you can see why that's so restrictive for folks and why the system needed change," Winters said.
"It is not enough and I think it's positive that there's changes, but I think there's more work to do as well."
The province has promised changes to that criteria system — benefit amounts will be less dependent on living arrangements and fewer separate benefit rates that will be standardized and at higher levels.
Gaps in eligibility
After Wednesday's announcement, Neria Aylward, executive director of the Jimmy Pratt Foundation, still had concerns about the threshold for families availing of the Newfoundland and Labrador child benefit.
The cutoff is an income of $25,736 and above for a family of two adults and two children. Clawbacks begin if that family's income is above $17,397. Full benefits only begin if the income is less than $17,397.
In February, the province will increase benefits by 300 per cent and expects to reach 14,000 children.
"We have a higher than average rate of child poverty in this province and in some parts of the province much more than others and among certain demographics as well," Aylward said Thursday.
The province uses the market basket measure, while groups like Aylward's uses the low-income measure to get an idea of the poverty rate. According to Statistics Canada's market basket measure, families of four making less than $50,931 in St. John's and less than $48,488 in rural areas are falling below the poverty line.
Regardless of which model is used, said Winters, Newfoundland and Labrador is above the national average for child poverty.
"It tells us as well that anyone under $50,000 is struggling to make ends meet in this province if you have a family of four, and it calls into question as well the kinds of thresholds that we use to determine whether somebody can access these benefits," she said.
The child nutrition supplement and child benefit are income-tested, she said, and families with an income of around $27,000 or less are the only ones who can access these benefits.
"But if we're seeing for a family of four, it's $50,000. There's a big chunk of children who are considered low income by the province and the federal government's measures who aren't able to access these programs."