Protesters are joined by NDP MLAs at a rally in front of the B.C. legislature Wednesday against a charge for bus passes introduced along with an increase in disability assistance.

Protesters call for more disability support

Minister Michelle Stilwell under fire for introducing monthly charge for bus passes along with $77 a month disability assistance increase

Protesters gathered at the B.C. legislature Wednesday to call for an additional increase in provincial disability assistance payments, which are due to go up this year for the first time since 2007.

The increase of $77 a month is to take effect Sept. 1, for disability assistance that now pays $906 a month for a single person. But the program is to begin deducting $52 a month for transit passes available to people who are able to use them, and that has sparked protests.

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell faced an angry opposition in the legislature after the rally, and again refused to reverse the decision to charge for bus passes. Stilwell said 45,000 people on disability assistance could not use a bus pass, and the change makes the rate fair for everyone.

Faith Bodnar, executive director of the advocacy organization Inclusion BC, told the rally her online petition opposing the change grew quickly to 100,000 people. She argued that bus pass or not, disability assistance rates remain too low.

“Government, all you did was equalize the poverty for people with disabilities in B.C.” Bodnar said.

Stilwell said the rate increase will cost $170 million over the next three years, and adding the bus pass funding to that would cost another $20 million. She and Finance Minister Mike de Jong have insisted they will not retain a system that helps some people more than others.

De Jong said the government is aware of some people taking the free bus passes available to disabled people and selling them on the street for whatever cash they can get. Those people will have the option of taking the entire $77 a month increase instead.

A single employable person without a disability receives $610 a month in income assistance, and that amount is not increased in the B.C. budget presented in February.