The Problem with Income Assistance in BC

Several years ago the BC government brought in tightened rules for those who receive income assistance (aka welfare). Part of the new rules were around fraud. Fraud was divided into categories. Clients who purposely set out to commit fraud and who pleaded guilty could face a ban on receiving assistance for the rest of their lives. At first glance, this seems to be a somewhat reasonable but nonetheless punitive change in legislation. Obviously the intent is to penalize those whose fraud is so massive that a lifetime ban is the only reasonable consequence that can be imposed. These cases exist but they are few and far between.

Now there is the case of Justin Mitchell. He was on Persons with a Disability (PWD). He has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He has struggled with his own addictions to alcohol and drugs. Apparently, he submitted a fraudulent confirmation of employment letter so that he could receive an additional $250. He pleaded guilty to his fraud and he has been ordered to pay the money back. Later he received a letter advising him that he would no longer be able to receive assistance for the rest of his life.

I think we can all agree that people should not commit fraud. People on income assistance are often caught between a rock and a hard place. Being forced to live in paltry sums of money committing fraud is sometimes the only way people have of meeting their expenses. Some work under the table and don’t declare the earnings, some access other resources that the Ministry of Housing and Social Development (MHSD or the ‘ministry’) is not aware of, some receive help from friends and family etc. All of these things would also be fraud. In essence the ministry sets people up to commit fraud.

The ministry is aware that they are setting up this situation. One of the things they do is to look at someone’s expenses and if they are over and above what they are entitled to on income assistance they are given a short amount of time to rectify the situation or they will not get any assistance. Rent is often the expense that is targeted. Given that the ministry only gives people $375 for rent it is very difficult for people to manage. To be fair, they will allow rent to be somewhat higher but if it encroaches too far into support money pointed questions are asked about how they are managing to eat. The way this is justified is on the grounds that people must be committing fraud to manage their high rent so therefore they are not entitled to assistance. If you then factor in expenses like cell phones, car insurance and cable there is no way people can survive on income assistance.

Justin Mitchell was trying to live on $906.42 a month. It should be noted that he was receiving disability rates. An employable single person would receive $610 per month. That amount is supposed to cover all of their expenses. Plus they are expected to be looking for a job. How can they do that when they can’t even afford bus fare.

The entire income assistance is corrupt. There is very little administrative fairness as clients are treated differently by different workers. How they even came to know that Justin had committed the fraud is questionable. As a former worker, I can tell you that the confirmation letter should have been verified prior to money being issued. It seems clear that if Justin received the money no one verified the letter. Had the ministry done their job and verified the letter then the money would never have been issued and there would not have been a fraud.

So we have a system that forces people to live on substandard amounts of money and it expects them to do so honestly. Recipients must report every bit of money they received and if they are employable it is all deducted dollar for dollar. Employment and Assistance Workers are over-worked. The workload has increased exponentially since I started in 2000. By the time I left in 2007, most workers could not keep up nor do a sizable number know policy well enough to implement it fairly. The rates are so low that recipients often have to choose between food and paying the rent. There has got to be a better way.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the I don’t know and the things that make it better edition

  • Life is pretty much up in the air as far as my health right now. I don’t know if I Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Well actually I know I have ulcerative colitis the only question with that is if it is worse. I don’t think it is worse even though my symptoms are bad right now. It is because I have been off of imuran since November.
  • I am booked for a colonoscopy and a gastroscopy in about 10 days. I am not really worried about the tests it is the prep that sucks. Plus because of all the activity of the prep I will suffer for days. Not happy.
  • I don’t know what they are going to do. I do not ever want to take prednisone again. The drug makes me hot and miserable plus I cry. If they put me back on imuran it will take 4-6 months to kick in which means well, more of the same. Either way you cut it, it sucks.
  • If I have Crohn’s I don’t know what the hell they are going to do. Which is going to suck too. I am sure it will not be pretty whatever it is. Probably more of the same shit.
  • Regardless of what it is I doubt that I will be feeling better any time soon which, sucks.
  • I have a wonderful partner who I adore. She makes living with this horrible disease(s) easier. Having a partner who understands and who is sympathetic makes a huge difference.
  • I have dogs. Right now our house is a piece of canine heaven. Everyone is getting along and they are all sweet, sweet, sweet. Coming home to excited faces and wagging tails always makes me smile.
  • I have a great job. I love my job. I love the people I work with.

Anyone living in Metro Vancouver is dependent on bridges for getting around the region. Any delays on the bridges, can back traffic up for kilometres and make everyone late and frustrated. Many things can cause bridge traffic to get backed up. Accidents are the main causes of bridge backups. Most bridges have tow trucks at either end for vehicle issues which, impede traffic. The other major thing that can tie up traffic on our bridges are people who want to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge.*

In Metro Vancouver, when someone threatens to jump off of a bridge it becomes a major incident. The police are called and the bridge is generally shut down. Most of the bridges are several lanes in each direction so it would seem that an incident like that could be handled without shutting the bridge down. Except for one very disturbing fact: as people go by they tell people to jump! I guess they get annoyed because traffic has slowed and part of their day has been taken up. So instead bridges can be shut down, sometime for hours, while police and professionals try to prevent a tragedy.

Today in Winnipeg there was a situation where a woman was going to jump off the Osborne bridge and into the Assiniboine river. Instead of drivers going by and telling her to jump a bus stopped and several people helped to bring her to safety. She is currently alive and in hospital.

What is the difference between Metro Vancouver and Winnipeg? I am not sure. I don’t think people here are inherently different from people in Winnipeg. I don’t know much about Winnipeg. Perhaps there are not as many bridges there as there in Metro Vancouver. There are close to 700,000 in Winnipeg compared to over 2.5 million in Metro Vancouver. I wonder if it is a function of increased population which, might mean a heightened sense of anonymity. Winnipeg may have fewer bridges with a smaller population and less intensive traffic.

Regardless of the reason I would prefer that we behaved like Winnipeggers. I would rather live in a world where we help people who are in crisis rather than mock them. Anyone have any idea about what fuels this difference?

*Or less fondly known as ‘jumpers’ in this neck of the woods.

Did hell freeze over and no one told me?

I was looking at the new online application system for Income Assistance and I was shocked to find out that they had changed their choices for gender. Here are the choices as I remember them:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Transgender Male to Female
  • Transgender Female to Male
  • I prefer not to stay

I could not believe it when I read it. Government institutions move at a glacial pace. Not only have they expanded on the traditional binary categories, they have differentiated between trans folk. Plus they have further acknowledged that gender can be a private issue for some people.

This move is a monumental step forward for trans folk but also gender outlaws. The binary gender category has been with us forever. In fact we organize so much of our world into binary categories: good and evil, black and white, God and Satan, etc. It really is the basis of how we organize things in our minds. This is an extremely important first step in the Ministry of Housing and Social Development becoming a much responsive organization.

Stupid People

Living in Metro Vancouver is quite amusing. People take themselves and their lattes too seriously. Most people would like to deny that winter even exists. Snow is taken as a personal affront and should the temperature go below zero they want to know where they can file a complaint.

Which brings us to Spring. As soon as the sun arrives in March many people break out the shorts and flip-flops. Some people (like Deb) wear shorts all year. The shorts I am referring to are the shorter shorts like the ones people wear in thirty degree weather. It seems like these people never put away their summer clothes. Instead the second the weather is 15 degrees above and not raining they break out the shorts and flip-flops. Now all this is fine while the sun is shining.

As we progress through April and we have more and more sunny weather there are more people in summer attire. Anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows that the weather is variable in April. For example, this April we have seen quite warm temps (low 20s out here in the valley) and much lower temps like today when it was about 8 degrees and pouring rain. We have had major wind storms (at least 4), we had hail and torrential downpours (today). For the dedicated short/flip-flop wearers it is like they do not believe that it is still winter weather so they move quickly from place to place trying not to get soaked. It also seems like they try not to make eye contact because they know they are idiots.

While the weather here is quite mild we still live in Canada people! You need to put away your summer clothes by November 1 and do not take them out before May 1 or else you will look like an idiot when you try to wear your short shorts and flip-flops through the next spring storm.

Edited to add: Oh and just for the record: flip-flops should never be worn by adults. Please buy yourselves a decent pair of sandals!

Great people, great evening

We had friends over for dinner tonight. It was one of the best evenings we have had in a  very long time. Great discussion and common points of interest. We got to meet 2 new fabulous dogs: Duff and Pharoah. Duff has the best underbite ever! I am a sucker for an underbite! Pharoah is a Saluki, rescued by Turtle Gardens. She is extremely shy and she had a breakthrough here tonight. She let all of us pet her as the evening progressed. It is an incredible honour and gift when a dog like Pharoah lets you pet her. TG and Stan have worked so well with her! Great evening!

Mrs. Bossypants

Bella photo by Big Air Photography

Meet Bella, AKA Mrs. Bossypants*. I have lived with many cats in my life. Bella is different. She is a Maine Coon. She is huge. She is bossy. She is beautiful. She has long hair, she keeps herself impeccably groomed. She loves attention and she purrs up a storm when she gets it. Once she decides what she wants she becomes Mrs. Bossypants until she gets it. This has been a characteristic since we got her. Actually, if I think back there may have been some hints…

Mrs. Bossypants was originally a breeding cat. Her career as a breeding cat was short-lived. At 11 months old she let the stud cat out, mated and had a litter. They tried to breed her after that and she was never able to have another litter. She was shown in some cat shows and she took 5th best cat at one show. Her original name was Tiera – short for ‘material girl.’ The breeder was quite young and clearly a Madonna fan.

Looking up, way up

Mrs. Bossypants has a long history of this personality trait. The people who owned the cattery had decided to adopt her out as ‘non-breeding’ because she had become cat aggressive. She was mean to all the cats and tried to prevent them from getting any attention. Apparently it had become so bad that they had to keep her separated from the other cats. It worked for Bella to come to our house as we had dogs and no other cats.

From day one, Bella was both beautiful and bitchy. She screamed at me every morning (and still does). If you talk back she tells you off. It is quite the hilarious routine unless you are me early in the morning. She is pretty much a one person cat. I am the person.

When Mrs. Bossypants wants attention she does not fool around. It is immediate and on her terms. Last night is a great example. She came into the living room and managed to get herself on to me. Now, that is all fine except for one thing. Nails. She has nails that look like talons and feel like little razors. The only person who has successfully clipped them is Debbie the dog groomer. I did not get time to cover my self with a 5-layered quilt before she was on me and kneading. Angelina rescued me by putting the quilt down and then we tried to get it into place before she did serious damage. Well, it didn’t work and we decided to cut her nails. Angelina tried to get her off me and Mrs. Bossypants drew blood. She then covered her head and did one paw. The noises that come out of that cat are otherworldly and scary! It took two of us to do the second paw. We didn’t bother with the back ones. Hopefully sitting with the cat will no longer require a chain-mail suit of armour.

Bella hanging out on a hot day from last summer

Now, on to the topic of food. It is in this area where Mrs. Bossypants truly excels. If there are less than 17 pieces of kibble in her bowl. She will meow and then it will escalate to a meow-scream**. She learns new routines very easily. We have a housekeeper who comes with some regularity and Mrs. Bossypants has her trained to wash her food matt, fill her bowls and pet her. One day I decided to give her a treat of some wet food. I finished off the can the next day and voila we must give her wet food daily or she meow-screams.

I have finally realized that I am staff to a cat. There is no point in fighting it anymore. Mrs. Bossypants will always win.

*The etymology of Mrs. Bossypants is as follows: Mrs. because she is old and deserving of respect (and I would be afraid to call her anything else), Bossy – keep reading and it will all become apparent, Pants because she has lovely hair pantaloons on her back legs.
**For the dog people a meow-scream is similar to a bark-scream that some dogs have down to a fine art.

Substitute Programming

So, I just wrote a great post. I went to put pictures in it because it really needs pictures and I don’t have any uploaded. I need to access the photos on another computer. I am far too tired to move from in front of the TV due to my soul-sucking day. I will leave you with the following.

I have been exploring Pages ’09 and I found a great feature. You can highlight a word and search it in Wikipedia (or Google) right from Pages. Totally awesome!

Search Spotlight, Google or Wikipedia

Just when you thought it was safe…

I have not blogged much about my older brother. For many reasons (some of which I may blog about later) I cut off contact with my brother 20 odd years ago. I realized , with the help of a great therapist, that every interaction with him cost me something: money, emotional pain, or physical pain. My brother is a psychopath. He has no regard for other  people and none for his family. My mother and my sister also cut contact with him.

Fast-forward to today. My mother got a call from her 2nd cousin with an ‘urgent’ message for my mother to call him. My mother is in no shape to call, so I did. It was clear that he hoped my sister would call. The bottom line is that he wanted money. Claiming that he has depression and agoraphobia he said he had not paid his rent in months. He does not want to apply for welfare, blah, blah, blah.

My mother, sister and I had a conference call and we decided we would do nothing. It sounds cruel but for our own mental health we must keep him out of our lives. Helping him would open up a Pandora’s box over which we will have no control. The decision was extremely difficult to make. It is hard to know that a family member is in trouble and do nothing. We made the decision to protect ourselves. I don’t think it is one we will regret.

Edited to add: Big thanks to Deb who asked really a pertinent question: “What the fuck?”

iWork ’09 vs Microsoft Office

I have been using Microsoft Office for over 20 years. When I got my first Mac Plus in 1990 I used Word to write my papers for school. My Mac Plus did not have a hard drive and I had to switch disks back and forth as I use the program. Five years later I decided to switch to a PC. I continued using Microsoft Office and became a power-user of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Last year when we switched to Macs the first thing I bought was MS Office. The first time I tried to use Word I managed to crash it. I ended up with that little coloured wheel going around and around. Word in the Mac is different from the PC. We don’t have a ribbon, we have a formatting palette. Excel has been fine as well but again I kept ending up in circumstances where I had that little wheel going around. My frustration was increasing.

I had picked up iWork ’09 for a good price. I installed it. I opened it. I then dismissed it because it did not seem full of all the things I knew. It seemed like a glorified version of text editor. I was wrong. Seriously wrong. It turns out that Pages ’09 is a very robust program. Moreover, it uses many of the intuitive Mac features in its functions. For example, you can get access to the computer’s font library. I suspect that there are many features in Pages so I am working my way through the manual.

Similarly, Numbers also seems to be a great program. It does not seem to be as ‘buggy’ as Excel can be. Anyone who uses Excel for any length of time is familiar with the odd things that can happen. One example is when Excel will create 10,000 records when you try to do a mail merge. I have excellent Excel skills as well. Numbers seems to be much more intuitive again. I am sure that right now I am only scraping the surface of what it can do. One feature lacking in Numbers is the ability to split and freeze your pains. I will find this a bit annoying as I use this quite often in Excel.

The third program, Keynote, is Apple’s answer to PowerPoint. I have not used it yet as I don’t use PowerPoint a great deal. I am looking forward to using Keynote as I suspect it will be good as well.

iWork ’09 comes loaded with all sorts of rich templates. From my first glance through them they appear to be well-thought out and designed. It is also very easy to create a template. Pages also saved the template in the right place. It was nothing like doing the similar thing in word or heaven forbid trying to alter the file. Working with headers and footers in Pages is incredibly easy. You don’t have to go through any other screens to get the header and footer up. They show up as boxes at the top and the bottom of your document.

I love to learn new software. It keeps my mind working. iWork ’09 is definitely a winner. Deb has also decided that she wants to use it too. I will update this topic as I learn more about these programs.