The following commentary kicked off the November 19th episode of ‘Serf City’, which featured an interview with Juanita Black, a Crescent Valley resident and community activist, about how low-income New Brunswickers will benefit from sweeping reforms to the province’s social assistance program. Listen to the interview here.
By Mark Leger
Last Friday, I led a workshop with women from Saint John’s low-income neighbourhoods. We were talking about how get media outlets to do stories on initiatives that would improve the lives of people living below the poverty line.
They aired a list of long-standing complaints against a provincial government that made it harder for them to get off social assistance and back into the workforce.
If you’re on social assistance, for example, you get health coverage for prescription drugs, dental work and eye care. If you get a job, you lose the coverage after a year. This is a big deal because most low-wage, entry level jobs have a health plan for employees.
If you and a friend are both collecting social assistance, you’re not allowed to live together. This makes life difficult because assistance rates are often not high enough to help get your life on track by paying down debts, saving money and covering day-to-day living expenses.
So here we have two impediments to living a comfortable, secure life, things most of us take for granted – adequate health coverage and economic stability.
Just as we were talking through some of these challenges as a group, Brenda Murphy walked into the room. Brenda is the director of the Urban Core Support Network, the organization that set up the workshop.
She had just come from a poverty reduction forum organized by the province that included representatives from the business community, non-profit sector, government and people living in low-income neighbourhoods.
As a group, they proposed sweeping changes to the social assistance system – from income supports, to housing rights for people rooming houses, to education and employment initiatives – changes that would address many of the issues raised by the women in our session that day.
And guess what? Rather than brush them aside or make vague promise of future reform, the government committed itself to rectifying long-standing problems with the system, including the health card and housing policies.
Some the changes would take place immediately and some implemented by the spring.
As Brenda began to list the many reforms, people in the room were both happy and a little taken aback by the swift action to fix longstanding complaints.
On tonight’s show, we’re going to hear from one of the neighbourhood residents who took part in last week’s forum at the Trade and Convention Centre.
Juanita Black is a resident of Crescent Valley and a longtime community activist. She is the coordinator of Around the Block, a community paper serving the city’s low-income neighbourhoods.
I stopped by her home earlier this week for a chat. I started our conversation by asking about which reforms she considered to most important.
Listen to that interview here.