Groups helping vulnerable Islanders concerned they will lose funding
© File photo
Sarah Roach-Lewis, executive director of Women’s Network P.E.I., says the LMA helps fund jobs for some of the most marginalized Islanders.
Community organizations in P.E.I. that help vulnerable Islanders attain the skills they need for the workforce are concerned they might lose funding under the proposed Canada Jobs Grant program.
Sara Roach-Lewis, executive director of the Women’s Network of P.E.I., says programs funded by the Labour Market Agreement (LMA) help some of the most marginalized Islanders, and the loss of those programs could be devastating.
“These people have what we would call multiple barriers to employment. And the range of barriers is pretty significant,” she said.
The LMA provides assistance to those who have not accessed employment insurance or maternity leave for several years. An agreement between the federal and provincial governments wherein the province administers this fund through Skills P.E.I. expires on March 31.
It’s one of two funds currently in jeopardy.
The provinces currently receive $500 million a year from the LMA and LMDA (Labour Market Development Agreement), but would lose $300 million, or nearly 60 per cent, of this funding if the Canada Jobs Grant goes ahead as proposed by the federal government.
The LMDA funds programs for those who are EI-eligible to receive training to get better jobs and careers.
The LMA helps those who have not been attached to the workforce for some time to get basic improvements, such as a GED.
Often LMA clients have been on social assistance, may have had mental health or addictions issues or simply have very limited job skills or experience.
Roach-Lewis has recently been involved in a project looking at poverty in P.E.I., interviewing 500 people across the province. She said this has given her a greater understanding of the gap in supports and assistance available to the most marginalized Islanders.
“My concern around the LMA is far more global than my own organization because I can see that if you are living below the poverty line, you are really struggling, the supports that we have are pretty limited,” she said.
“We need to be adding supports, not taking them away.”
Innovation Minister Allen Roach was part of a delegation that met last week in Toronto with federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney to discuss the labour market agreements and present a counter-proposal to the Canada Jobs Grant. Roach says the provinces would like more flexibility with the plan and want to ensure the new program does not negatively affect the most vulnerable.
“There is a number of programs that we run now through Skills P.E.I. where these programs won’t be eligible under the new Canada Job s Grant so there’s going to be some people who are going to lose out on this, no question,” Roach said.
“We’re telling (Kenney), look, we’ll work with you on this Canada Jobs Grant and we’ll work with you about where the funding can come from, we just want to ensure that in this area, these groups from high-risk programs don’t get impacted.”
The Canada Jobs Grant would offer $15,000 of training per worker, two-thirds funded by the federal government with the remaining amount coming from the employer.
Roach says he is also concerned about how small businesses would come up with this contribution. The counter-proposal asks to allow small or medium- sized businesses to offer their portion in-kind.
Kenney has told the provinces he will respond to their counter-offer in the next two weeks.
In the meantime, people like Roach-Lewis are left to wonder what will happen on April 1.
“It really worries me that there’s a possibility that a pot of money for our most vulnerable is going to be redirected to a place where our most vulnerable is not going to be able to access it,” she said.