A $200 Cheque: The Right Step? Or a drop in the bucket?

Premier Brian Pallister’s announcement on May 26, 2020 of a one-time $200 cheque to support low-income Manitobans with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic feels like a step in the right direction. It’s finally some sort of response to the calls from our coalition and other Manitobans for the province to better support those living in poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In reality, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed for all people experiencing poverty and homelessness. 

The cheque will go to people receiving Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) under the disability category only. Pallister’s announcement notes the additional challenges and financial costs experienced by people with disabilities during the pandemic. A one time $200 cheque will not go very far given the extra challenges that people on EIA with disabilities are facing – rising food costs, costs associated with getting food (delivery, taxis, etc), cleaning supplies, communication and phone costs, and many others. 

The announcement fails to address that all people living on EIA are facing additional hardship and continue to need financial support.

Make Poverty History Manitoba has been calling on the Pallister government to provide all EIA recipients with an additional $300 per month during the pandemic. The Province would be joining other jurisdictions like British Columbia where people on income assistance got an extra $300/month for three months. 

People who have no choice but to depend on EIA as their only source of income live in a state of emergency most of the time. The approximately $800 a month received by a single person on EIA traps them well below the poverty line. It is barely enough to rent an apartment for a month, nevermind to purchase other basic needs and find the stability needed to take steps toward financial independence. 

As a result, many people on EIA rely on other public services and non-profit organizations for things like food, phone, and laundry services. The majority of these services have been either shut down or drastically reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the daily crises experienced by people living in poverty. This is the general experience for people across all categories of EIA.

Low-income people with disabilities, low-income seniors, people on general assistance, and anyone who is living in poverty deserve meaningful support to meet their needs. While people with disabilities face unique challenges that need to be addressed, the omission of all other low-income people reflects a false perception that they are not deserving of support. Our provincial government must do better.