BRINGING OPPORTUNITY AND INDEPENDENCE TO MORE FAMILIES
The energy, commitment and vigour dedicated to education reform must now be directed to the reform of our social programs. New ideas and innovative measures are needed to bring meaningful change.
The Social Policy Advisory Committee held over 100 meetings with 1,500 individuals from 130 communities on a new direction for social policy in this Province. Their conclusion reflected the public assessment - the status quo is no longer acceptable.
A New Focus
The mandates of two departments will be changed. Last year, we announced phase one: the creation of the Department of Human Resources and Employment.
The second phase begins on April 1 this year with community services moving from the Department of Human Resources and Employment to an enlarged Department of Health and Community Services.
The new Department of Health and Community Services will integrate children and family health services through existing regional community health boards. These Boards will undertake new responsibilities for Child Welfare, Youth Corrections, and Family and Rehabilitative Services.
Meeting Basic Needs
Mr. Speaker, we recognize that the 32,800 individuals and families on social assistance have the lowest levels of income in the province and, indeed, in this country. Therefore, we are increasing monthly allowances by 7% over the next three years, commencing with a 2% increase effective May 1st. Social assistance recipients are getting the same rate of increase that we have negotiated with our public sector unions.
In addition, we will dedicate $400,000 to a new Cost of Living Allowance for families with dependent children living on the Labrador Coast. This extra $150 a month will help purchase basic items such as food and fuel on the Labrador Coast, where the costs are much higher than in other areas of the Province.
Getting a New Start
Mr. Speaker, we must help those in need provide for themselves and their families. However, the best way to assist people is to help them find a job. Government must do all it can to encourage self-reliance. We must, therefore, take steps to remove the barriers to employment.
Currently, most families who receive additional income lose 50% of every dollar earned up to $200 - the maximum exemption being $100 per month. Effective June 1, 1998, families will be able to retain the first $150 earned, with no reduction in benefits.
Mr. Speaker, many single parents collecting social assistance have told us that they are often "worse off" financially by accepting employment at the minimum wage. Government must find ways to correct this. This year, in conjunction with the Single Parents Association of Newfoundland, we will conduct a $500,000 pilot project with 100 to 200 families to explore means of support that will enable them to maintain employment.
Government will also provide $4.4 million for wage subsidies for up to 1,200 people to obtain meaningful employment in the private and non-profit sectors.
Government recognizes the problems faced by young people as they try to make the difficult transition from school to work. This year, more than $7.5 million will be directed towards youth programs. These will target post-secondary students, youth "at risk" of becoming dependent on long-term income support, and youth seeking first jobs and work experience. Over 2,500 jobs for young people will be supported through wage subsidy initiatives. This includes $2.1 million for the Student Work and Services Program. These initiatives are in addition to the $4 million in new scholarships announced earlier.
Helping Those with Disabilities
Over the years, people with disabilities have made considerable progress in the workplace. We must ensure that these efforts continue. To this end, Government is finalizing an $8.2 million, 50:50 cost-shared agreement with the Government of Canada to provide employment and training support to those with disabilities. Employment programs and services currently offered to people with disabilities will continue to be available in 1998-99.
Through the Opening Doors Program, Government employs persons with disabilities in the Public Service. This year we are pleased to announce an expansion of these services. In cooperation with the Government of Canada, an additional $1 million will be used over the next two years to create new public sector employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
In February, the disabled community in our Province lost a distinguished ambassador - Ms. Debbie Prim. She was a dedicated volunteer and an accomplished athlete. In her memory, Government will provide $88,000 to assist wheelchair athletes attending the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.
New Transition Homes
Mr. Speaker, to provide shelter, counselling and referral services for battered women and children, Government will establish core funding for two new Transition Homes - in Nain and on the Burin Peninsula.
School Childrens Food Foundation
Mr. Speaker, if we are to educate children properly, we must nourish their bodies as well as their minds. The School Childrens Food Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador does valuable work with limited means to meet the nutrition needs of children throughout the Province.
Government is pleased this year to provide the Foundation with a $1 million endowment to expand its efforts. We invite school boards, school councils, community agencies, and the private sector to join us with their support.
National Child Benefit
Mr. Speaker, we must provide all children of this Province with equal opportunities, regardless of family income.
If children of low-income families have:
then they will break the cycle of dependence and poverty.
This is the goal of Government.
Mr. Speaker, when the National Child Benefit is implemented this July, it will be Canadas first new social program in 30 years. This program will bring the federal and provincial governments together to improve the lives of millions of Canadian children.
Let us clearly understand how the National Child Benefit works:
Mr. Speaker, let me emphasize: there will be no loss of income for social assistance families. They will receive the same amount. Part will come from social assistance and the remainder from the National Child Benefit. For low-income working families not receiving social assistance, the National Child Benefit will increase the benefit level available to them.
The National Child Benefit frees up $10.15 million annually in provincial social assistance funds. The Province will reinvest every last penny in programs and services for low-income families. These include:
New legislation governing child welfare services and the licensing of child care services will be introduced in this Session of the House. Community participation will be sought in planning and implementing these changes.
Mr. Speaker, these efforts, taken together, will allow families to gain greater independence and secure more employment opportunities.