Downtown Eastside

BC recovery benefit application virtually inaccessible to people who need it

“the Pulse” @ Vancouver Co-Op Radio, CRFO 100.5 FM, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

The newly launched BC Recovery Benefit opened for applications last week — a key NDP promise in last fall’s controversial election — but already it’s turning into an insurmountable barrier for some low-income people and seniors faced with an unexpected barrage of paperwork and documentation.

Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, of First United in the Downtown Eastside – Photo courtesy First United

Challenges to accessing BC Recovery Benefit

If the prerequisite to have filed taxes this year wasn’t already a barrier for many people who earn too little to even pay taxes, or afford an accountant, many individuals who have attempted to apply for the $500 non-taxable funds ($1,000 for families) since it started not only faced website crashes due to overloaded servers, but also follow-up emails from government demanding they provide printed or scanned copies of government photo identification and bank account records.

Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, of First United in the Downtown Eastside, said even she struggled to understand an unnecessarily complicated website where the link to actually apply wasn’t obvious — and was hit with a government email requesting documents simply unavailable to many of her DTES clients.

She said the government’s recovery benefit falls far short of what’s required — and is inaccessible to those who most urgently need it during a pandemic that’s seen huge swathes of the public lose income, plunge deeper into debt, skyrocketed overdose deaths, and cast people from their homes.

Instead, Landsdowne is among a growing number of advocates who say instead of one-time handouts, the province needs to — in the short term — cancel its cut to the disability top-up and add any emergency benefits directly into social assistance. And an even better solution, she argued, is to launch a B.C.-wide universal basic income pilot project.

Set a minimum annual income

Such a policy ensures every resident is topped up to a set minimum annual income, regardless of how much or how little money they make. It wouldn’t claw back or cancel benefits for people who earn a small amount of money or attempt to re-enter the workforce.

Landsdowne said the pandemic has made such a move all the more urgent here, and she said even after the vaccine is widely distributed she fears an escalation of deep poverty and economic desperate could last much longer. UBI has been tried successfully in Scandinavia, several communities in Ontario and, historically, in one Manitoba city to measurable effect on poverty and health.

Top photo credit: Downtown Eastside by GoToVan via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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