Protesters are joined by NDP MLAs at a rally in front of the B.C. legislature against a charge for bus passes introduced along with an increase in disability assistance, March 2016. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Protesters are joined by NDP MLAs at a rally in front of the B.C. legislature against a charge for bus passes introduced along with an increase in disability assistance, March 2016. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

UPDATE: NDP adds $52 for disability transportation

Monthly payment can be used for transit, rides from friend

The B.C. government has announced an additional $52-a-month transportation supplement for people receiving provincial disability income assistance, following a divisive debate about bus passes before the spring election.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson announced the supplement Monday at the B.C. legislature, with representatives of provincial advocacy groups for people with disabilities.

The previous B.C. Liberal government increased disability income assistance rates by $77 per month in September 2016, and introduced a $52 charge for those who wished to have a transit pass. The charge for transit passes sparked protests, and former social development minister Michelle Stilwell defended it by pointing out that 45,000 disability assistance recipients were short-changed because they have no access to transit services.

Simpson said the new supplement can be used for an annual transit pass for people in Metro Vancouver and other places with transit service, or for any other purpose, including paying a friend or neighbour to provide occasional trips for shopping and other trips.

“At any time, people could cancel their bus pass if they want,” Simpson said. “They could use their supplement for other transportation needs such as HandyDart if they chose to do that.”

The B.C. Liberal pre-election budget included a $52 increase to cover the difference for disabled people who want transit passes, but it did not take effect after their government was defeated. The NDP program is to cost an estimated $70 million a year.

The NDP government raised income and disability assistance rates in its budget update Sept. 11, with the $100-a-month increase in effect for assistance cheques delivered later this month.

The cost is estimated at $472 million over three years to increase the rate for 190,000 people, bringing the monthly rate up to $710 for a single employable person and $1,133 per month for someone on disability assistance.

Faith Bodnar, executive director of the advocacy organization Inclusion BC, said the new supplement is a welcome solution that is fair to people with disabilities whether they use transit or not.

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