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Two hundred jobs of people with disabilities at risk

Province refuses bridge funding while Ottawa dispute remains unresolved

by Robert Devet

200 people with disabilities may lose their jobs if funding for their support workers is cut off on April 1st. Heather Downey, mother of a child who lacks social skills, and Andrew Stratford, who experiences bouts of anxiety, raise the alarm at a press conference.  Photo Robert Devet
200 people with disabilities may lose their jobs if funding for their support workers is cut off on April 1st. Heather Downey, mother of a child who lacks social skills, and Andrew Stratford, who experiences bouts of anxiety, raise the alarm at a press conference. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - After graduating from the Nova Scotia Community College in 2012 Andrew Stratford now works as a paralegal at a local law firm.

But he doesn't know how much longer he will be able to keep that job.

Bouts of anxiety make it difficult for Stratford to function at work, but support provided by an Employment Maintenance Worker (EMW) has made a world of difference.

"I was at risk of not being able to do the things I learned at college as a result of my anxiety," says Stratford. "My EMW was able to work with my employer and myself to find solutions for my anxiety, and it worked extremely effectively."

The EMW worked with Stratford during breaks or after work, and would also educate Stratford's employer about his disabilities.

This month Stratford's EMW was told that he will be laid off on April 1st.

Stratford spoke at a press conference called by the Collaborative Partnership Network (CPN) at Province House today.

The CPN is a provincial organization mandated to assist persons with disabilities in the workforce. Agencies under the CPN umbrella have assisted over 14,000 people with disabilities to attain employment in the last ten years.

The Province recently announced that it will no longer fund the eleven Employment Maintenance Workers that operate province-wide.

A standoff between the federal government and the provinces about the so-called labour market agreement is putting these Nova Scotia jobs in jeopardy.

The CPN is just one of several organizations affected.

The argument between the feds and the provinces is about who decides how federal funding for job training is spent.

Provinces want to continue to make those decisions, whereas the federal government wants to see the lion share of the funding go towards an employer-led program.

No money will flow from Ottawa to the province until the dispute is resolved.

And the eleven Employment Maintenance Workers, and the 200 people with disabilities in Nova Scotia that they support, are caught in the middle.

The Chronicle Herald reports that a request by the CPN for $112,000 in bridge funding has been denied by the provincial Department of Labour and Advanced Education. That amount would have allowed the organizations associated with the CPN to continue their work for the next three months.

Heather Downey is the mother of 25-year old Ian. Ian has severe difficulties interacting socially.

Downey believes Ian would not have a job today it it weren't for the support provided by the CPN support workers.

"The job coaches make the difference between either Ian working or sitting in the basement playing video games," Downey told a packed room at Province House.

"The difference between having a job and not having a job is like night and day. He is so much happier and content and engaged when he has a reason to get up in the morning," Downey says.

"On March 31st the Employment Maintenance Worker program, delivered since 2008 through the labour market agreement, will be in crisis," said Janice Ainsworth, Co-Chair of the CPN.

"And when we say crisis, don't take that lightly. There are 200 jobs that are at stake if on April 1st that money disappears. And April is only days away. Those are real jobs for real people, working in our communities."

For Heather Downey, Ian's mother, the business case is clear.

"It costs about $500,000 per year for those eleven councillors," said Downey. "Ian's share of that is about $1,000."

"That $1,000 means that he can go to work. You take that job away and he wont be able to work, he will go on Income Assistance [and receive $12,000]."

"To me that would be an $11,000 per year savings."

 

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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Topics: Labour
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