Benefit limits and income tests in the disability support program keep it viable, a senior bureaucrat told human rights panelists Thursday.
RON RYDER The Guardian
Bob Creed, co-ordinator of the DSP and other programs for eastern P.E.I., was called as the only witness to speak for the government in response to four families who have alleged the plan is discriminatory in the way it grants money to help people cope with or find assistance for their disabilities.
Creed said the program, begun in 2001, took in a larger section of the Island population and provided a greater range of services than earlier plans but he said it was recognized from the outset that there would be shortfalls.
“It has provided support for many more Islanders overall,” he said. “Each year, the budgeted amount for the program has increased. It’s fair to say we have required funding each year of around $500,000 over budget.”
He said the plan is budgeted for $8.1 million in 2006-07, with 16 workers handling a total caseload of around 1,066 clients. He said the program is aimed at helping Islanders with disabilities meet unmet needs and that there is an expectation that disabled people and families of disabled minors will use their own resources to meet as many of those needs as possible.
“We don’t have unlimited means, government provides us with an amount of dollars every year,” said Creed. “We try to direct the dollars in a way that benefits most people.”
Creed’s testimony marked the end of direct evidence in the three- day hearing.
Lawyers Jacqueline O’Keefe, representing the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission, and Karen Campbell, representing the four families, will have until Feb. 22 to file their written submissions in the case. Robert MacNevin, representing the provincial government, will have until March 8 to give his written response. All rebuttals have to be filed by March 15, at which point commissioner Lorraine Thompson will set a final hearing date.
Campbell served notice that she wasn’t swayed by Creed’s assertions that fiscal necessity required government to cap benefits and to use a screening tool that sets aid limits based on responses to a set of 18 questions.
She noted that the DSP comes in at less than one per cent of the province’s $1-billion budget and around seven per cent of the $115- million budget of the Department of Social Services and Seniors.
“When you’re saying you can’t have this without income testing you’re saying it wouldn’t fit within your budget,” she said. “You’re not saying government would cease to function. A decision by politicians — that’s how these things are set. They could fund more if they decided to; It’s a question of how they prioritize services.”