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How special needs cuts affect people with disabilities

A personal account: “I felt abused and discriminated by the ESIA programme”

by Kendall Worth

Kendall Worth is a regular contributor to the Halifax Media Co-op.  Here, he is seen selling the "voice of the poor" newspaper, Street Feat
Kendall Worth is a regular contributor to the Halifax Media Co-op. Here, he is seen selling the "voice of the poor" newspaper, Street Feat

Many people who rely on income assistance in Nova Scotia have had their special needs allowances cut. These special needs include bus passes, special diets, mobility devices, and telephones. This is my story on how the special needs cuts have affected me, and how I was treated by the Department of Community Services.

My story is an example of how the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) programme can be abusive toward people who are on income assistance.

After all, people who need these special diets are people with disabilities like myself.

It started on February 26th, 2013, when I received my income assistance cheque for the month of March. I was expecting a $66.00 high-calorie/high-protein special diet allowance; it was missing.

In my case, the proper medical documentation required for approval of a special need was submitted to my case worker. The documentation was accepted in 2012, but was turned down in 2013 despite the fact the specialist indicated that no significant changes have occurred and my health status remained unchanged.

Impulse control disorder is a permanent disability, which means my medical condition will not change. During both contact with the department and the appeal hearing, Community Services does not see my disability this way.

The department saying that I cannot have this diet for that disability is a form of discrimination.

I was not notified that this allowance was going to be cut from my budget. Furthermore, my caseworker has tried to deny my right to appeal the decision through the department’s appeal process.

My caseworker would not speak to me about my decision to want to appeal decision, or why I had got cut off this diet in the first place.

The appeal process begins with an administrative review, and at that level my appeal was denied. I do, however, have an opportunity for a formal appeal where the department and I, the client, present our case to an outside adjudicator who makes a decision based on the ESIA regulations.

At this point I felt abused and discriminated by the system/ESIA programme.

The following describes what happened and the steps I took get the issue resolved.

#1 – I was angry when I had saw the $66.00 missing from my cheque that I made immediate contact with the office of the minister of Community Services. Later that day, I faxed the Minister’s office all the relevant information on what I was asking them to help me fight for. After that, I had regular contact with a staffer at the minister’s office who did a lot to try and help me get this resolved.

#2 – I made contact with Trevor Zinck who was my MLA (North Dartmouth) at the time. Zinck informed me that a lot people had been losing their special needs allowances through ESIA. He also advised me that Community Services has developed a habit of rejecting doctor’s notes. I wrote a second letter to the minister bringing what Zinck told me to her attention.

#3 – I phoned my specialist's office to tell them about my special diet cut-off. I was informed by my specialist that his office has been contacted by Community Services about my high-calorie/high-protein special diet allowance being cut off. Finding this out made me mad. So I contacted Zinck and wrote another letter to the minister. I found out the caseworker called my specialist because she knew I was going to appeal. The caseworker made two phone calls to my specialist and he indicated to me he found this intimidating.

#4 – The following week, Trevor Zinck made contact with the Dartmouth office of Community Services on my behalf and left messages on two voice mail machines. One call he made to the office was to my caseworker, and the other was to a supervisor. The purpose of these phone calls was to find out why my allowance was cut off, and why I was denied my right to appeal. The return calls from the Department of Community Services included complaints that my advocacy to the minister’s office was viewed as inappropriate by the caseworker and supervisor.

When I called the appeals board coordinator at Head Office of the Department of Community Services, I found out I could still appeal the decision. My caseworker was outright denying me my right to appeal. So the appeals board coordinator sent me the forms in the mail, and I finally started the appeal process.

During the appeal hearing I felt I was discriminated against by the system. I felt this way because the ESIA casework supervisor who was present at the hearing tried to use ESIA policy against me by saying the special diet was intended for cancer patients and not people with my particular disability. He did not mention that the policy was not limited to these medical conditions.

My request was denied at the hearing.

Close to the end of the appeal hearing, I was told by the case work supervisor who was present, that if I go back to my doctor and ask him to write a stronger version of the medical letter regarding the need for my $66.00 high-protein/high-calorie diet, then Community Services will look at it again.

I returned to my doctor twice following the hearing. At the second visit, my doctor decided he was not supporting my caseworker’s expectations of a stronger letter. Because my specialist was not willing to pursue this further I approached my family doctor. He charged me a $35.00 fee to write a letter to address my caseworker’s expectations. This letter did not contain any new or different information so was not helpful to my appeal.

In some cases an appeal to the Supreme Court is possible. I questioned a legal aid lawyer about a Supreme Court Appeal but was advised against this.

I wrote two more letters to the minister and the department called me in for a meeting where I was told I had to stop fighting this.

I was told policy issues like the one I raised are sent back to the casework supervisor after going through several other reviews. My case had been dealt with as far as they were willing to take it because they believed policy was followed in my case, they said.

ESIA policy/regulations can be abusive toward income assistance clients. These policy/regulations especially hurt income assistance clients with disabilities. More than 50 per cent of all income assistance clients have disabilities that require special needs accommodation.

Special needs accommodation is an election issue and I hope our next government takes this seriously.


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Topics: Health
1087 words

Comments

Inhumane treatment by ESIA

In June 2015, my cheque went down by $201.  Most of that was for taxis as I am in a wheelchair, and the Access-A-Bus service is not reliable or even availalbe for some trips. I was also denied $16 for grocery delivery that I had previously received for 15 years. I appealed and only won back the money for grocery delivery. Yes, they actually told a person in a manual wheelchair to carry their own groceries home to save themselves $16. They only gave me the money back when I pointed out to them that I would have to buy groceries almost every day as I can only put a small amount in the bag hanging on the back of my wheelchair, so this would cost them a bus pass.

Politicians don't even know we exist, never mind it being an election issue.

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