Protestors call for province to reverse recent changes to social assistance programs

As the first day of the fall legislature was set to begin, a group of protestors gathered outside to call on the province to reverse recent changes to social assistance.

Advocates and community groups say a change to the income assistance program is leading to an increase in evictions and homelessness in Regina.

“The state of our income security system in Saskatchewan has never been worse. It’s really tearing the social fabric with increased homelessness and desperation across the province,” said Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry.

In 2019, the Ministry of Social Services announced the creation of the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, which would replace the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) and Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA).

SAP and TEA previously covered the cost of utilities for clients, but the new program puts the costs of rent, utilities, taxes and all other home-related costs under a shelter benefit, meaning a single adult will have to pay for all the home-related costs with $500-600 a month.

Clients also receive $285 to meet all other basic needs including food, transportation, clothing and personal items.

“People just don’t have enough money to live on, severe poverty, we can’t house people,” said Doreen Lloyd, a grassroots community social worker who attended Wednesday’s protest.

The ministry phased out the SAP and TEA and fully transferred all clients to the SIS program in August.

The protest comes as the number of people calling Regina’s Pepsi Park home continues to grow.

“With this drug epidemic we’ve got now, compounded with the poverty and the homelessness, it’s a nightmare, it’s an absolute nightmare,” said Lloyd.

Rally organizers said the government also needs to provide emergency housing immediately.

When asked about the protest, Minister of Social Services Lori Carr said the SIS program has not resulted in a reduction of benefits, but rather that the benefits are being delivered differently.

“We’re hoping to enable the people that will be able to pay their own rents and their own utilities at some point in time,” said Carr. “We do know that there are people out there that won’t be able to do that. And we will work with them on a one-on-one basis and if we have to help them out by paying their bills, we will.”

The premier said the government will continue to move forward with current plans as they’ve been designed.

“We have services to offer, we have housing to offer and we have social services employees and staff that are willing to help folks with any questions they might have,” said Moe.