“We are currently facing a crisis.”
Those words were uttered by Saskatchewan NDP Regina Elphinstone-Centre MLA Meara Conway on Tuesday morning at an event in Regina regarding the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program.
Standing near a group of tents pitched in Regina’s Pepsi Park east of downtown, Conway said she wrote a letter to Minister of Social Services Lori Carr to call on the provincial government to suspend the program and return to a direct payment model for housing and utilities.
The New Democrats are also requesting increases to payment amounts which better reflect cost of living in the province and a working roundtable to create a comprehensive housing strategy to connect people with supports and shelter before the winter months.
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Members of the NDP say this is in light of increasing rental arrears, evictions and homelessness among SIS clients.
“I want to emphasize this is a crisis of the government’s own making,” stated Conway at Tuesday’s event in Pepsi Park in Regina.
“This was a slow-moving car crash that everyone around me has been warning the government about since 2019.”
Conway admitted she is getting calls every day about concerns from people in her constituency being impacted by issues surrounding the program.
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“We’re one month in to the full implementation of this program and already one-third of those on the program are at risk of eviction,” shared Conway, who serves as the NDP’s critic for social services, housing and human rights.
“We’re hearing from the landlord association that nearly half of people could not afford their full rent in September and 30 per cent didn’t pay their rent at all. It’s an unmitigated disaster.”
SIS replaced the Saskatchewan Assistance Program and the Transitional Employment Allowance. Both programs were closed out on Aug. 31.
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The party noted in a statement on Tuesday that warnings have been voiced by social service workers, landlords, housing and anti-poverty advocates about the potential outcome for a couple years.
“This government is unbelievably out of touch with the chaos they caused by cutting supports during an unprecedented pandemic and transitioning over to the Saskatchewan Income Support program,” said Conway.
“The minister says she doesn’t know how many people transitioned to the SIS program or how many people fell through the cracks. She doesn’t know how many clients are assigned to a social worker, doesn’t know that clients are waiting 4-5 hours on the phone to reach their social worker.”
Conway urged Carr to go back to the drawing board and meet with groups involved in this situation to find solutions moving forward.
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