Clear, Consistent Access to Special Needs Funding for People on Income Assistance

Department of Community Services

August 8, 2011 12:56 PM

Clearer regulations now make it easier for income assistance clients to understand what special needs funding they can receive, and ensure funding decisions are consistent and fair provincewide.

The amended Employment Support and Income Assistance Regulations Around Special Needs funding take effect today, Aug. 8.

"We know that some people on income assistance have special needs and often need help with medical issues, or even to get to work," said Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse. "We are committed to meeting those needs, and have been increasing our budget to do so.

"At the same time, the criteria for receiving special needs funding must be clear, fair and consistent so that people are treated the same no matter where they live."

Over the past two years, the department has increased the special needs budget by 15 per cent, or about $6 million, bringing the total investment in funding to more than $45 million. These funds are intended to help income assistance clients with medical and employment-related special needs.

Over the years, the department has received special needs requests for items and services like hot tubs, gym memberships, and humming touch therapy. These were never intended to be covered under special needs, but because the regulations were not clear, about 20-25 of these requests were approved either by a caseworker or through an appeal.

The department has also received a number of special needs requests for medications and substances, such as medical marijuana. The amendments now make it clear that Community Services can only cover medically related items and services that are covered by MSI or listed on the Nova Scotia Pharmacare Formulary. This is consistent with how other provinces handle requests for medical marijuana.

The amendments are also consistent with recommendations from the auditor general who said clear systems and controls must be in place to ensure special needs funding is being spent as intended, which is to fairly meet the needs of income assistance clients.

The change only affects new applications for special needs funding received after Aug. 8. Income assistance clients now receiving special needs funding will continue to do so as long as the special need exists.

In addition to the more than $45 million invested in the Employment Support and Income Assistance Special Needs program, the department is also investing an additional $18.25 million this year to help income assistance clients and low-income Nova Scotians make ends meet. These include a 22 per cent increase per child, per month to the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, a $15 per month increase in the Income Assistance Personal Allowance, indexing the Affordable Living Tax Credit and the Poverty Reduction Credit to keep up with inflation, and allowing working income assistance clients to keep more money each month.


FOR BROADCAST USE:

     Clearer regulations now make it easier for income
        
assistance clients to understand what special needs funding they

can receive, and ensure funding decisions are consistent

provincewide.

     Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse says the

criteria for receiving Special Needs funding must be clear, fair

and consistent so that people are treated the same no matter

where they live.

     Community Services invests more than $45 million in special

needs funding annually. The funds are intended to fairly meet

the special needs of all income assistance clients.

     The amendments now make it clear that Community Services can

only cover medically related items and services that are covered

by MSI or listed on the Nova Scotia Pharmacare Formulary.

     The change only affects new applications for funding

received after August 8th. People now receiving special needs

funding will continue to receive it as long as the need exists.

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Media Contact: Susan Tate
              Community Services
              902-424-4038
              E-mail: tatese@gov.ns.ca