Calls for B.C. to repeal COVID-19-related disability 'clawback'

The B.C. government is under pressure to reconsider a change that means some people on disability are getting less money – despite the government's vow to support them through the pandemic.

Earlier in the pandemic, people were able to get federal employment insurance without it coming off their provincial disability cheque. Although B.C. is still reeling from COVID-19's impacts, that's no longer the case.

A statement from Social Development Minister Nick Simons said, in part: "In November, the federal government began replacing broad emergency supports with targeted ones, restoring the EI program to its original purpose. B.C.’s change is consistent with this federal shift."

CTV News spoke to a woman – who wished only to be identified as Keri – who says she lost her job during the pandemic. The changes, which mean each dollar of Employment Insurance is deducted from disability payments, mean Keri no longer gets a disability cheque. She said she only found out about the change in January, by chance.

In a statement, the province said it notified people in mid-December.

BC Liberal social development critic Dan Davies said constituents raised the issue with MLAs. He pointed out that up until this week, the province's own website still said that you could get EI and a disability cheque as part of pandemic supports.

The opposition called this another communication failure, and urged B.C.’s NDP government to reconsider the program, even if it's meant to dovetail into the federal government's program.

"The reality is, the provincial government has the ability to not implement this,” Davies said. “They have the ability to, you know, extend this further or to extend this longer, which is what we're asking."

“This is cruel and unusual punishment to those that are being impacted by this the most,” he added.

The minister's statement went on to say the broad programs put in place at the beginning of the pandemic are being replaced by more targeted supports.

Keri says the experience is demeaning, adding she can no long afford to visit her mom who lives in another city, and who has cancer.