Friday Fail File Special Edition:The disability bus pass debacle.
“The healthy and strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it. Whether he’s got an abscess on his knee or in his soul.” – Rona Barrett”
The past year has brought us diehard #bcpoli followers more than a few stories of government action and inaction that have left a bad taste in our mouths-the deaths of kids in care of the MCFD, Rod MacIsaac’s suicide following the health firings,and most recently the changes to the disability bus pass that have left thousands asking for help across the province.
On February 16, 2016, the Province of BC tabled its budget.
People with disabilities received a small increase to their disability benefits but there was a catch. The $77 per month increase was tied to the cost of a person’s transportation. These are the changes, effective September 1st, 2016:
People with disabilities will receive a $77 per month increase to their benefits.
People receiving PWD benefits will no longer be able to purchase an annual bus pass for a $45 annual fee.
The cost of the bus pass will go up from $0 to $52 per month, plus an annual $45 administration fee.
For people with a bus pass, the new change means a $25/month PWD benefit rate increase. After a nine-year rate freeze, this is an insult.
Indeed. And the reaction from not only people on disability payments but their caregivers, community support workers and families has been loud, continuous and heartbreaking.
People on disability in Minister Stilwells own riding of Parksville-Qualicum have even rallied in the rain.
Some, with personal words for the Premier and Stilwell
Others have for the first time, written about what the impact will be on their lives.
I am writing because of the egregious changes to our bus pass. I have always appreciated our bus pass as it is my sole source of transportation. I used to cycle but a brain injury affects my balance now. I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, eat out, go to movies, attend cultural events that charge, or buy new clothes. I cook from scratch eating simple meals. I’ve raised a family so I know how to budget. I have post secondary education. I pay my bills on time and gave up tv years ago when cable got too expensive. I’d like to think I’m an ideal PWD citizen, budgeting carefully down to my last dollar. My underwear is cheap and tattered. I no longer have family members here because they have moved to other BC cities where cost of living is cheaper. Even though I have taken exceptional care of my teeth I now suffer from daily nerve pain due to age related receding gums. My only choice is to have multiple teeth extracted which is extremely humiliating. However, all that aside, I am heartbroken and feel utterly defeated regarding the impending changes to our bus passes. I feel I have no choice but to give up my bus pass in order to get the full increase because the cost of food has gone up so so much as have my hydro and phone costs. I do not squander one cent of what I receive yet I feel there is no other logical choice. I will suffer even more from isolation giving up bus rides to the ocean or parks just to lift my spirits. Your changes have literally chained me to my apartment and the few surrounding blocks I painfully walk with my cane. I will no longer be able to bus to friend’s for coffee and enjoy much needed socialization. Huge numbers of us are opting for food , rent and utilities rather than bus transportation. As our daily happiness erodes so will our mental health and well being. You have obviously overcome obstacles in your life but now, sadly, you have become primarily instrumental in creating a huge obstacle for us in our daily lives.
And Stilwell, clearly feeling the heat, finally announced with much fanfare online that they would eliminate the annual $45 fee..a token offering they hoped would quell the noise. It didn’t. http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2016/06/22/scrapping-of-fee-called-token-measure
Outrage is turning to desperation and despair for many as they contemplate cutting food,hydro,medical appointments and other basic essentials most of us take for granted. Even for others who have been lucky enough to build up a support system or are able to independently walk, the impact is still substantial in being able to raise themselves to fulfill health requirements and future goals and dreams. One of my readers reached out and shared her story with me,asking for help in raising awareness:
I’m feeling as though I may not have ‘the story’ for you regarding the PWD bus pass, and that so many are more significantly affected, yet by the same token, I see importance in shedding light on the diversity of impact this bus pass issue has. Here is what I can offer:I’m roughly one of 50 000 individuals currently utilizing the PWD bus pass. While my story of personal impact regarding this issue is unique, the theme of continued access to resources, inclusion, independence, and hard decisions is universal, and requires a compassionate, supportive, realistic, and necessary shift.Though I’ve been immensely fortunate to create community around where I live and I’m currently able to walk independently for most of my daily activities, I feel this impact of these bus pass changes.I’ve been unable to secure housing within the Vancouver boundaries, and need to travel into the city weekly for medical appointments, as the health resources I continually need are not offered near me.To complete my education, I need to travel to my post-secondary institution for mandatory monthly seminars. Specialist appointments are scheduled to help me continue to manage my complex medical conditions, and I’m often needing to travel from my home in **removed to protect privacy**, to various facilities located throughout the Lower Mainland.All of these instances once worrisome primarily in regards to my energy levels, has now compounded my worry as I ponder the impact of potentially choosing to give up my bus pass, versus continued accessibility to my resources.Despite cost of living increases across the board, PWD rates haven’t shifted in nearly a decade. It’s common knowledge that meeting one’s basic needs of food and shelter and associated costs is becoming more and more difficult. It’s also common knowledge that necessities exist beyond this, which significantly impact a person’s overall health, such as a person’s feelings of safety, community, worth, and contribution.To make one feel they must choose between access to their resources only currently accessible through the use of their bus pass, or feeling slightly less financially constrained, negatively impacts not only the individual facing the hard decision, but also those around them – it’s a compounding negative ripple effect.I’m faced with the hard fact that if I surrender my bus pass, I’ll have more monthly funds to allocate towards bills and expenses, yet I’ll lose much of what helps to balance and sustain, and maintain my levels of health and well-being. I will become more isolated. We will become more isolated. Finances are a basis of our sustainability at what cost?Increase the awareness. Please help keep us in our communities. Please help us remain independent. We offer so much.How will the numbers shift come September when one of us feels they can no longer afford to attend their medical appointments? Day program? Work? Volunteering? Food bank? Or to meet with a friend? How will we get to where we need, and are needed?
Bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities.
Eliminate the new $52/month bus pass fee.
Let everyone receiving PWD benefits keep the $77/month increase.
Raise the PWD benefit rate to $1200 per month by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living.
With the current party leading government in BC firmly in campaign mode for next years election,we are constantly hearing how BC is in the best financial position.There is a new funding announcement at least three times a week if not more.
It’s unacceptable to allow this situation to continue when people are becoming ill with worry about what September’s implementation will mean for their lives.Eat or stay warm? Stay warm but become home-bound? Missed medical appointments? Inability to access education opportunities to build a better future?
For many, it will be a life-changing moment, and not for the better. Don’t let these friends, family and neighbours fall behind. Because success shouldn’t be defined by those who make the most money,but by those who enable the most vulnerable among us to reach their full potential.