Man Says His Income Exceeds Province’s Cutoff by Less Than $20
By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun
December 22, 2011 2:27 AM
Barry Londry receives disability money because he has a heart condition, but a recent cost-of-living increase from Ottawa makes him ineligible for a transit pass, which costs about $1,800 a year.
For most people, a little extra money from the government is something to celebrate, but for Barry Londry, it was the beginning of a bureaucratic night-mare that threatens to make his world a whole lot smaller.
Londry, 55, has a heart condition and has been designated a Person With Disability since 2005. He receives monthly Canada Pension Plan payments from the federal government, as well as top-ups from the province that stem from his Person With Disability designation.
That designation entitles him to a number of benefits, including an annual bus pass.
He also receives a cost-of-living increase of $10 to $15 a month from Ottawa, which has been increasing each year as his provincial top-ups decrease, resulting in a relatively stable income year-over-year.
“I’m almost making the same as I was in 2005, which is tough because everything goes up … all your day-to-day expenses and everything,” he said.
Londry recently realized he hadn’t received his bus pass application for 2012 and took transit to the local social ser-vices office in east Vancouver to find out why.
After initially being told he was eligible for the pass, he was later informed by B.C. officials that his federal cost-of-living increase had put him over the maximum income to be eligible for the provincial top-up money.
Because Londry will no longer be receiving this money from the province – which he said amounted to about $1.40 a month in 2011 – he will lose his person with a disability designation and his bus pass in January, even though nothing about his medical condition has changed.
“Eligibility to receive Person With Disability assistance is based on income,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Social Development said in a statement. “If an individual’s income exceeds the eligible amount, then the individual is no longer eligible for the program,” and will lose the associated benefits, including the bus pass, the statement said.
Londry estimates his monthly income exceeds the provincial cutoff of $906 by no more than $20.
“I would gladly just give the cost-of-living [increase] back, because I really struggle each month with day-to-day expenses and just barely make ends meet now …. Getting the bus pass and getting transportation around … is a huge benefit,” Londry said. A three-zone transit pass in Vancouver is worth about $1,800 a year.
“Without that, I’m really lost. I don’t know what I would do.” Londry is completely dependent on transit to get anywhere he can’t walk. He is particularly worried about how he will buy his groceries should he lose his bus pass, as he is under doctors’ instructions not to lift heavy items due to his heart condition.
Londry, who used to be a professional chef, volunteers cooking meals at Collingwood Neighbourhood House, which is within walking distance of his home, and even played Santa Claus there recently. But he doesn’t know how he will get to his community garden plot at Nanaimo and Hastings or to his other volunteer commitments without transit.
In his darker moods, Lon-dry thinks maybe his illness will “take care of everything” and the problem will go away, a sentiment he expressed to a social services employee during one of his many phone calls to the department.
The ministry spokesman said he could not comment on specific cases, citing privacy concerns, but noted that the province spends $44 mil-lion on the program – which provides annual bus passes to 80,000 people with disabilities and low-income seniors for an administrative fee of $45 – each year. B.C. is the only province in Canada that has such a program, the statement said.
“The ministry acknowledges there is high demand for this popular program. However expanding eligibility for the bus pass program is not being considered at this time,” the statement said. “With a caseload of about 180,000 clients, it’s important that ministry policies are applied in a regular, standard and fair way.”
NDP leader Adrian Dix, who also happens to be Londry’s MLA, said his situation is a result of the province’s disability maximum having been frozen since 2007 and the federal CPP cost-of-living increase going up.
“What’s happening – and it’s really, really frustrating in this case and it’s not, I believe, an unusual case – is that when you have those two things happening, obviously you have a case like this one, where he basically got a cost-of-living increase and lost significantly,” Dix said.
“If this is happening, if you’ve got one which is static for years, which is the threshold, and you’re slowly inching up on the other, you’re going to get a lot of people falling in this position and I’m sure that’s the case. And it’s not the absolute income that’s important, obviously, it’s the eligibility for services.”
Calling Londry’s situation “transparently unfair,” Dix called on the government to either change the eligibility rules for the subsidized bus pass or raise the maximum disability income.
However, even if the government were amenable to such a change, it’s unlikely to come in time to help Londry.
“Part of the illness that I have, I’m not supposed to have any stress in my life,” Londry said. “I try to not worry about it, thinking that … it will work itself out, but it’s not seeming to and it’s getting closer to the end of the month and I’m getting more and more concerned.”
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