COMMUNITY SERVICES - ESIA and EI BENEFITS - CLAWBACK

THE SPEAKER « » : The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

COM. SERV. - ESIA REC.: EI BENEFITS - CLAWBACK

SUSAN LEBLANC « » : Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community Services. Last year the department made changes to allow income assistance recipients to keep more of what they earn if they work. Those who are fortunate enough to have long-term employment are eligible for EI; however, if they are laid off and receive benefits they have paid into, this money is clawed back at 100 per cent.

When I asked the minister about this in the Fall, she indicated that she would look into it. However, in response to a follow-up letter, the minister said that an exemption of EI earnings was not being considered. I can table that.

Will the minister reconsider and agree to treat EI benefits the same way as employment earnings?

HON. KELLY REGAN » : I would like to thank the honourable member for her question. We want all Nova Scotians to enjoy lives involved in their communities and things like that. We want them to have rich lives here in Nova Scotia.

One of the things about income assistance is that it is the program of last resort. When people have other ways of getting support, we do ask them to do that.

[2:15 p.m.]

[Page 2573]

SUSAN LEBLANC « » : Mr. Speaker, with respect, people living on income assistance, as the minister has referred to, are living in abject poverty and to expect them to have all their EI, which they have paid into, clawed back is simply unreasonable and unfair.

Halifax artist Josh Dunn received a grant from Arts Nova Scotia to make a film that had been years in development. When he told the department that he would be paying himself a small fee out of that grant, the department told him they would be clawing back 100 per cent of that money from his ESIA payment.

If the minister was actually committed to improving the lives of people living on low incomes, then her government would not be using every opportunity possible to take the money away from them.

Will the minister apologize to Mr. Dunn and agree to treat self-employment income the same as other employment earnings?

KELLY REGAN « » : I thank the honourable member for the question and of course we all should recognize that these particular rules have been in place for many, many years, including the four and a half years that the NDP were in government. (Interruption)

Mr. Speaker, I was kind enough to listen to the honourable member make her statement. I would ask that she would at least allow me to finish my answer without being interrupted.

What I would like the honourable member to know is that, in fact, we are looking at that exact question right now and I expect to have something to announce soon.

THE SPEAKER « » : The honourable member for Cumberland North.