Eliminating The Economic Unit Policy
On February 18, 2010, Lamrock rose in the New Brunswick Legislature to announce that the economic unit policy which prevented those receiving social assistance to have a roommate had been eliminated. All New Brunswicker's receiving social assistance prior to January 1, 2010 would immediately benefit from this program. By June 30, 2011 the program will be extended to all recipients of social assistance who began receiving benefits after the January 1, 2010 cut off date.
Lamrock explained why the program is being rolled out in this way in the Legislature on February 18, 2010.
I want to inform the House of the three steps that will be taken to change this policy forever. In the covenant for poverty reduction, there was an agreement that the government would excuse all those on social assistance today from the economic unit policy, except for spouses, who have an obligation to look after each other. That means that all those who are social assistance clients as of January 1 can now—and in the future—take on roommates or move in with a brother. A parent can move in with their adult child who can help look after them in tough times. That can happen. When we looked at it, we also decided that was not enough. We want to make sure that we are cementing this policy once and for all.
Second, I want to let the House know that the department has begun the delicate work of redrafting the policy altogether. Certainly, no one in this House wants to see an 18-year-old be able to graduate from high school and go on social assistance while living with their parents. No one wants to excuse spouses from their obligation to look after each other for richer or for poorer. While being consistent with the charter and not discriminating, we want to make absolutely sure that we draft a policy that makes sense. We have committed, and we have ordered the department today, that that work is to be done by June 30, 2011, so that not only are we excusing the clients whom we are excusing today, but we are also going to fix it for everybody.
Third, we also understand that while that important drafting work is being undertaken, there will be new applicants—those who may fall upon hard times and those who may be looking to share expenses or have a little bit of help. I am also pleased to inform the House that we have allowed the Minister of Social Development to make exemptions for new applicants. We will also set up a committee to advise the minister. It will be made up of the people living in poverty, the frontline poverty advocates, and the community leaders who were part of the poverty reduction strategy in the first place. This will allow the minister to help all those who come looking for help, and who do not have anyone who should be expected to look after them, to be exempt from the economic unit policy. I also want to make it clear that the ministerial discretion is there to protect people. I will soon be making public a mandate letter to the committee with the principles that we intend to use.
The Opposition offered criticism to Lamrock's actions on the economic unit policy which is part of a much larger Poverty Reduction Strategy that the Conservative Party leader David Alward signed and lent his Party's support to in Saint John in November 2009.
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