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Reducing Poverty and Increasing Self-Reliance

Mr. Speaker, we have outlined numerous ways in which we will work with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to create new opportunities in both traditional and breakthrough industries. These initiatives will open doors for people throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. But for many people in our province, obstacles stand in the way of opportunity. Currently, approximately 66,000 individuals in 33,000 families in our province live in poverty. Poverty often means poor nutrition and poor health, poor educational opportunities and poor employment prospects. But it is not only the poor who suffer the costs and consequences of poverty. We all suffer when circumstances prevent so many among us from developing and contributing to their full potential.

Guided by a strong social conscience, we moved forward last year to develop Newfoundland and Labrador�s first-ever comprehensive, integrated Poverty Reduction Strategy. We set to work to gather solid research and consult broadly with those who understand poverty best in order to develop an action plan that will truly make a difference. We are ready this year to announce our progressive Poverty Reduction Strategy with an investment in measures across several departments totaling $62 million on an annualized basis.

Our research and consultations have indicated that prescription drug costs create the biggest financial barrier to work for those on Income Support and are a significant hardship for those earning low wages who lack prescription drug insurance. This year, we will invest $8.3 million (which means $32.8 million on an annualized basis) to extend eligibility for the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program to more low-income residents and introduce an accelerated co-pay at the same time for these additional clients. This initiative will expand coverage to approximately 97,000 additional people.

Some people face barriers to work because of high housing costs. At an annual cost of $750,000, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing will begin calculating the rent of employed tenants to reflect net pay rather than gross earnings, thereby cutting rental charges by about $50 a month for some 1,200 households. This initiative will be complemented by others through NLHC, including Phases I and II of the Affordable Housing Agreement, the Provincial Home Repair Program and the Residential Energy Efficiency Program.

To assist in the transition to the work force, we will invest $570,000 to extend Income Support to clients starting a job during the critical first month and will simplify the process for reporting income. We will also invest another $500,000 this year to continue career development, job recruitment and placement initiatives to help Income Support clients, especially young people, find jobs. Also, we will increase funding under the Supported Employment Program for adults with developmental disabilities.

Recognizing that education is critical in achieving self-sufficiency, we will invest an additional $1.2 million a year to expand the number of Adult Basic Education courses at College of the North Atlantic campuses. We will provide a monthly $25 rental rebate for every adult member of an NLHC household who is in full-time attendance at a post-secondary institution as well as for every level 2, 3 and 4 high school student in a tenant household. And, as already indicated, we will also invest $2 million a year to assist female and male students in Grades 10 through 12 with new skills-development courses that can open up college and career paths.

We believe no parent should have to pay for instructional materials that students require to participate fully in classroom instruction, such as workbooks and photocopying. Therefore, this year, at a total cost of $5.3 million, we are increasing the instructional grant from $80 to $150 per pupil in order to eliminate common school fees for all items and services that are currently purchased in bulk by schools and boards and billed back to parents. We will also invest $1 million to cover prescribed consumable workbooks.

To promote student health, we will invest $250,000 to implement new school food guidelines to encourage healthy eating and enable school cafeterias to provide healthier food choices. This complements our $500,000 investment under the provincial Go Healthy wellness plan for the Kids Eat Smart Foundation, which works with schools and community groups to establish nutritious breakfast, lunch and snack programs. With an annual contribution of $250,000, we will also continue to support the Jumpstart Program developed by the Canadian Tire Foundation for Families, which enables children from low-income homes to participate in sports and recreational activities.

We also know that low-income families often find it difficult to pay surcharges associated with accessing dental care for their children covered by the Provincial Children�s Dental Program. We are allocating an additional $4.1 million in an effort to eliminate these surcharges so that all families can avail of the dental health services their children need.

While education and employment are keys to reducing poverty, it is also essential to support those who are most vulnerable in our society. We will invest $7.4 million a year to raise Income Support rates by 5 per cent, a further $3 million a year beginning in 2007-08 to index Income Support rates to the rate of inflation, and another $2.8 million a year to further assist families in high-rent centres or with high-cost needs with their rental costs. We are also increasing the rate we provide for Income Support clients to cover funeral costs. And for families of children with disabilities, who often face extraordinary costs, we will invest $2.25 million a year to increase access to the Special Child Welfare Allowance program that helps families offset some of these costs.

Many low-income families have particular difficulties accessing legal and counseling support services. We will invest $679,000 to expand Unified Family Court Services to provide more family law resources throughout the province, thereby enabling the working poor, particularly in rural areas, to reduce their legal expenses through improved access to family law services. We will invest $250,000 to enhance civil legal aid services that help low-income families with family law matters. And we will increase funding to the province�s Women�s Centres by $80,000 a year so they can continue to provide counseling, support, and education services to women throughout the province.

Measures such as these will help break the cycle of poverty, both by addressing the consequences of poverty and by targeting the circumstances that cause and sustain poverty.

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