Policy victories: Clawing back the clawbacks
First Call coalition members were appreciative when the BC government eliminated the clawback of child support from single parents on income and disability assistance in September 2015, reducing the depth of poverty for more than 5,400 BC children annually.
At the same time, another 50 to 100 children benefited from the elimination of the clawback to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) orphan’s benefit, from widowed welfare recipients when their disabled partners died. However, families are still fighting to stop the clawback of the CPP survivor’s benefit for spouses.
Responding to advocacy again, in March 2016 government announced the elimination of the clawback of the Workers’ Compensation orphan’s benefit.
Facing a human rights complaint through the Community Legal Assistance Society from mother Jessica Alford about the clawback of maternity and parental leave benefits from Employment Insurance, and a rising chorus of disapproval about this policy from First Call, West Coast LEAF, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and more, government again responded with the elimination of the clawback effective October 1, 2016. This is great news for the many families and children affected by this policy change.
There is still more work to do. Families like Neil and Jake continue to fight to stop the clawback of the CPP survivor’s benefit for spouses.
“If I could keep the death benefits my wife earned, I would enroll my son in more things, buy him more clothes and not always pinch pennies.”
Child support clawback
Credit for achieving the end of the child support payments clawback from single parents on income and disability assistance is shared by many First Call Coalition members and allies, many courageous mothers, and supportive politicians and civil servants.
This policy change means that, as of September 1, 2015, the government will finally stop picking the pockets of 5,400 of BC’s most vulnerable children. The average monthly child support payment in BC is just over $300, but for families living in the deep poverty caused by inadequate income or disability assistance rates, even being able to keep a modest $50 or $100 will make a big difference. This announcement means roughly $13.4 million will be going towards 5,400 of BC’s most vulnerable children!
This powerful impact is a clear example of why the First Call coalition advocates for change at the public policy level to improve the lives of children and youth. Campaigns to change public policy aren’t won overnight – First Call has been calling for this change since 2007 – but when they are successful the widespread benefits are significant.
This win also includes an end to the mandatory assignment of a parent’s maintenance rights, for example to seek court-ordered child support, to the ministry. Effective May 1, 2015, if a client would like ministry help with obtaining a maintenance order or written agreement, the client may voluntarily assign their maintenance rights to the ministry, but they are no longer required to assign these rights in order to be eligible to receive income assistance. There are criteria for income assistance recipients to meet to obtain this help.
In this op-ed in the Province, End of Clawback Welcome News, First Call’s Adrienne Montani illustrates the importance of the policy change to single parents and their children. Special thanks to Rebecca Bodo for sharing her story.
First Call also wrote a letter to former Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Don McRae to thank him for his role in eliminating the clawback.
As the op-ed and letter note, there remain a number of other improvements First Call would like to see implemented within the income and disability assistance programs and other aspects of government policy in order to better support children’s healthy development and help move families out of poverty, and we are anxious to have those discussions with government.
“I would not have to visit the food bank if I could keep the $400 in child support,” explained Rebecca Bodo, one of the courageous single mothers on disability assistance who advocated for an end to the clawback.
With the end of the clawback, Rebecca’s daughter Sophey will now have an extra $4,800 per year in child support, money that can go to nutrition, swimming lessons, proper shoes and everything else a child needs.
- In 2002 the policy changed so that the total amount of all child support payments is clawed back from single parents on income and disability assistance; previously they were allowed to keep up to $100.
- Since 2007, in First Call’s annual BC Child Poverty Report Card, we have been recommending that government end this clawback.
- Many of our coalition partners and allies, such as the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver, West Coast LEAF, Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS), Inclusion BC, the Canadian Mental Health Association-BC Division, BC ACORN, Raise the Rates and the Single Mothers’ Alliance BC, wrote to government and spoke up about the urgent need to rectify this policy and its negative impacts on child well-being.
- In partnership with other groups such as CLAS and West Coast LEAF First Call wrote a letter to all parties asking for their position on the clawback policy in the lead up to the 2013 provincial election.
- The call to end the clawback was reinforced by the official opposition and the BC legislature’s Finance Committee in their budget recommendations. Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall worked especially hard to support this campaign.
- Three families and the Single Mothers’ Alliance BC filed a legal action in the BC Supreme Court in September 2014 to challenge the clawback of child support payments from families on income and disability assistance in BC. The case alleged that deducting child support from families on assistance violates their right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Read the press release from the Community Legal Assistance Societies’ website.
- Maple Ridge put forward a successful motion to the Union of BC Municipalities conference in October of 2014 calling for an end to the clawback. First Call wrote a letter to all of the Union of BC Municipalities convention delegates encouraging them to support this and other motions that are important to the rights and well-being of children and youth in BC.
- BC ACORN developed a petition calling for an end to the clawback and First Call prepared sample letters people could use to mail and email the Premier.
- MSDSI Minister Don McRae and government staff attended the December First Call coalition meeting. First Call presented a statement, partners and allies explained the need to end the clawback and courageous single mothers shared their stories.
- First Call, the Single Mothers’ Alliance and Community Legal Assistance Society made a joint submission to the provincial government’s February 2015 consultation on the clawback.
- The Single Mother’s Alliance and BC ACORN held rallies and shared the stories of those affected throughout 2014 and 2015.
- The February 17, 2015 budget included an announcement that the provincial government would end the clawback of child support payments from single parents on income and disability assistance, effective September 2015.
- Laura Track, legal director at West Coast LEAF, and Kendra Milne, a staff lawyer at the Community Legal Assistance Society, shared their views in the Times Colonist: B.C.’s child-support clawback violates rights, lawyers say
- The Tyee’s Katie Hyslop tells how one single mom on disability “has considered stealing or sex work when her money runs out” and how the “cost-neutral” Family Maintenance Enforcement Program “ forces parents on income assistance to act as middle men in transferring the $18 million in income assistance and disability payments every year between the ministries of justice and social development and innovation” in her piece: With Disability Clawbacks, ‘It’s Panic All the Time’
- Is clawing back child support good policy or just mean-spirited? What are child-support payments for? Should the money be solely for children’s needs? Or should support payments be regarded as the custodial parent’s income? Daphne Bramham from the Vancouver Sun considers these questions and explores the different arguments that government and child advocates have made about clawbacks to child support.
- Vaughn Palmer in the Vancouver Sun: NDP makes persuasive case that clawback of child support payments make life hard on poor single moms
- Keith Baldrey, Surrey Now: Low-income families in B.C. feel province’s uncompassionate pinch
- Andrew MacLeod, The Tyee: Single Mom Slams Clark on Clawbacks: ‘She Has Zero Idea.’ Premier says economic growth will help parents like Jessica Sothcott, whose child support is deducted from her disability cheques. “It’s so dumb,” Jessica’s daughter, Rosalie, says, adding that she and her brother don’t skip meals, “just my mom does.”
- News 1130: Disabled mothers in BC rallying against child support clawbacks
- Vancouver Sun: Moms rally in Vancouver against clawback child support payment ‘Our children need the money,’ chanted demonstrators
- YouTube videos from the 2014 BC legislature on the debate with Minister McRae, Opposition critic for the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, Michelle Mungall, and other NDP MLAs when this issue was raised in the legislature on April 2 and 9, 2014. (Positions were at the time of video release). You can read or watch these debates:
- Michelle Mungall demands answers on child support clawbacks
- Carole James demands answers on child support clawbacks
- MLA Mungall and MLA Karagianis on child support clawback
- Hansard transcript from April 2
- Hansard transcript from April 9
- See also: BC Government Factsheet: B.C’s family maintenance program and income assistance
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