Docherty grilled over $2.3M in unspent social assistance

Teresa Wright
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Community Services and Seniors Minister Valerie Docherty

The P.E.I. government left $2.3 million unspent in social assistance and other support payments last year and cut its budget this year for social programs by close to $2 million.

This has put Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty on the hot seat over the last several sitting days in the legislature, forced to explain why she did not use those millions to help vulnerable Islanders on disability support and social assistance.

On Tuesday, Independent MLA Olive Crane asked why some of this money was not distributed to help low-income Islanders to help them heat their homes.

“The Salvation Army ran out of emergency home heating fuel in January. In fact, it was the harshest winter on record going back 40 years,” Crane said.

She pointed out Docherty’s department would have received a third-quarter forecast informing them they would be under budget and thus have more dollars to work with.

“I’m really disappointed that $2 million was still on the table,” Crane said.

“(Docherty) would have known about the $2 million in January, and I find that outrageous because there was so much need this year, and that money could have been redirected and not gone back to general revenue.”

Crane also got a dig in at her former Opposition colleagues, saying she has heard from many Islanders on this issue who ‘quite frankly don’t care’ about a $16 room upgrade – referencing the Opposition’s focus of question period last week on Docherty’s hotel room upgrade last summer.

But last week Opposition MLA James Aylward did highlight and raise concern about the unspent money in Docherty’s department and upcoming cut this year.

On Wednesday, Opposition Leader Steven Myers continued to push for answers on how $2.3 million was left unspent when so many vulnerable Islanders could have used extra help.

“We have the highest taxes in all of Canada. Food banks are at an all-time high. Islanders are buying furnace oil in jerry cans at the gas station. Social assistance rates have barely budged under this government,” Myers said.

“Do you honestly feel that the needs of Islanders are being met or are you really that far out of touch?”

Docherty acknowledged assistance rates are low, but offered a number of reasons for the unspent $2.3 million.

On Friday and Tuesday, she said a decrease in social assistance clients was the major reason, which she described as positive news as it means fewer Islanders needed government help.

On Wednesday, she also tried to explain that the fourth quarter forecast has not yet been completed and that her department may have indeed already spent that money.

“I know it’s tough to live on social assistance. But what the member from Georgetown (Myers) needs to understand, and what I hope the public understands is, we would not turn away anyone who comes to us who is qualified and meets our criteria,” Docherty said.

She also pointed fingers at the previous Tory administration, which she says did not make the increases her Liberal government has since taking office in 2007.

She further noted that a new five-year food cost program will be rolled out next year. This will tie future food rates to CPI.

“That is going to make a difference in the lives of those who need to use our program,” Docherty said.

“Our shelter rates were increased in November. Our food rates for singles were increased this past January. We are working to address the need and we will continue to address the need.”

Organizations: Community Services, The Salvation Army

Geographic location: P.E.I., Canada, Georgetown

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Recent comments

  • Food Rate Increase Is a Joke!
    April 23, 2014 - 02:17

    Docherty says their food rates for singles were increased this January. Well I just checked over my sisters printouts she happens to have and her food allowance went from 156 a month to 164. Break the bank with that 8 dollar increase. What a joke!

  • doesn't matter
    April 22, 2014 - 09:17

    all i have to say about this is let valerie docherty and all the other puppets live on what they give a family of 5 to live on for one month and see how things soon would change that is the problem with them they do not know what it feels like to need something cause they can just go and get it. Now my husband had a heart attack and all they allow us for groceries for one month for a family of five is 774 and that is under there section called food and personal now i don't know about you but 774 for food for a month and clothes for 5 people how the hell are you suppose to do it.

  • Bs
    April 17, 2014 - 12:17

    She is soo full of crap !!!!!!my brother lost his job and his girlfriend was on maternal leave their income was under 1000 a month they were in rough shape and tried to get assistance for oil and groceries and we're turned away.. they were heating their place with small electric fireplaces borrowed from friends their power was on the brink of being shut off because of their HIGH power bill !!!!!!!with 2 kids they were stressed to the max and this liberal government couldn't care less... So don't try to sit there and say that less people needed help!!!! Party supporters were not struggling soaking millions out of taxpayers money were they!!!! This liberal party makes me sick

  • Sammy
    April 17, 2014 - 10:18

    I agree that the Minister should have known more and acted to use the money she had left in her budget. This has been the hardest winter I can remember and people struggled to get through it. I can't say that the PC's know any better. Just two months ago they bought a background for their political announcements. You can't point the finger at Valerie if you do stupid stuff like that.

  • André
    April 17, 2014 - 10:13

    Yes, not much has changed; except new staff, locals and newcomers, for the newcomers. 1995 working as kids were in school, only for the grain I feed to our animals, welfare told me, keep it up and they cut off money – 1452$ a month for eight in 1997. 1998 and too date, they have hired people too cut funds from welfare folks; although ranked 01, unable and need special food, they cut. Raise their salary, keep folks on welfare and knock them.

  • Bill
    April 17, 2014 - 09:46

    The numbers are likely going down for those that need assistance because of the level of poverty this government expects people to live, ones that aren't "connected" to them that is. So many more people than I ever thought would, are simply disgusted with trying to make a living here and end up moving thousands of miles away from their family and friends just so they might end up having a little bit of something when they retire, it's a sad state that this province is in.

  • diane
    April 17, 2014 - 09:41

    Unreal I know people on assistance and they barely get enough funds to pay rent let alone pay light bill , food etc..wonder if mrs d ever went to bed hungry because she didn't eat in order to give her children the food in the a single mom who used to be on assistance the system is terrible you have to really do some begging in order to even get any help...and to know she has 2.3million left disgusting when she could have helped so many more islanders ..Wake up mrs d and really take a look around oh but you will never see these assisted people will you!!!! because they are below you and are not in the same social circles as you ....totally disgusted with Docherty I know where my vote wont be going!!!!

  • Fed up
    April 17, 2014 - 09:10

    This lady and this entire bunch of government puppets need to face reality. Live on mimimum wage for a few years. I know a young single parent. She couldn't find work. Every place she applies ...especially fast food...ia full of phillopino workers. Soc asst says you find an apt, we will pay $500.a month. Girl finds apt. Signs "security deposit" beat the streets...found THREE part time jobs! Called soc Asst all proud of herself....they TAKE AWAY EVERY CENT!! She is supposed to live on 25-30 hrs a week on minimum wage...with a baby to buy diapers, milk, pay sitters , $700. Rent....just try to find anything but a dump under that! Even the $700. Aps are dumps...I was in can hear next door using the bathroom.... Soc Asst ONLY A BIG JOKE!! If this girl stayed home and did nothing, they would give her money. She has the gumption to get THREE P-T jobs AND THEY WONT HELP AT ALL....they encourage people to lie on their backsides and do nothing! Docherty...and the others have no idea of reality. They drive big cars, have huge incomes....spend more on make-up, hair care,, eating out, and travelling to the South than this girl has to live on...and her baby...for a MONTH!! Surely people will put the run to ALL of them...Ghiz, Currie, Docherty, Vessey (plan B needs repair after ONE year?!?) , Sheridan....etc! lEARN people. I voted for these people ONCE. Brains not to a second time...but some never learn!

  • landlord
    April 17, 2014 - 08:45

    It's not just those on assistance who are struggling.......I own a rental property, my tenants work but for minimum wages and they struggle.........all my costs have increased (water & sewer, electricity,heating oil) but I can't increase their rents to cover it because they can't afford to pay any more :(

  • Ron
    April 17, 2014 - 08:34

    “I know it’s tough to live on social assistance. This is what she says, what a load of %^ap. How does she know.

  • TheLightsAreOnNow
    April 17, 2014 - 06:40

    What this definitely illustrates loud and clear is that there is not one cabinet minister in Ghiz's puppet show that knows how to do their job. Face it, PEI, you elected a bunch of duds with a crook as a boss! I know dozens of people who were struggling this winter, like none before it, that were turned away by social services. Ghiz's government is a joke! His number one priority is Robert Ghiz! The least he could do is to tell his cabinet members to wipe the smirks off their faces when they are lieing to the public!

  • Lindsay
    April 17, 2014 - 06:35

    How can tangos government call themselves liberals? They are denying access to services that are obviously needed by their own citizens but have no problem throwing money at parties and royal visits that are for the benefit of tourists. This government is more comparable to that of North Korea than that of any democratic one. Disgusting.

  • Furious Frustration
    April 17, 2014 - 06:32

    Unbelievable how out of touch Ms D is with the people she is there to serve. IF she can do math, (obviously she's struggling with it), she should sit down and do it. Figure out a workable budget using the amount that's allowed for people on social assistance. I challenge you, Ms. D. DO THE MATH and then justify holding back 2 and half million from people in desperate need.

  • voter
    April 17, 2014 - 04:31

    come on !!! she is just a politician !!! just another puppet !!! she does exactly what she is told by the party !!! Politicians are all the same -males, females , liberals conservatives independents etc etc --all puppets --self serving smile at you puppets !!!

  • Angered islander
    April 16, 2014 - 22:39

    To Respond to Ms Docherty.. Struggling Islanders unfortunately get turned away .. In order to qualify you basically have to not work at all.. Or your told your income exceeds what is considered by social assistance standards.. You feel bad enough needing and asking for help or I know I did the couple times I bothered to try only to be told you make too much money!!! So you bare your soul to these people only to be pushed to the curb. So ms Docherty when you say no one would be turned away within the criterias set... There lies the problem. This criteria and qualifications are the problem!! Struggling islanders need these set realistically to today's rising costs ... So 2.3 million dollars??? Islanders were freezing this winter, going without medications to ensure they had oil, going hungry ... Everything has gone up food, gas, electric, oil.. And still the governments criteria is not adjusting to the needs of us Islanders. Why bother asking for help cause chances are if you are trying to support your family and have any income coming in to your household you will be turned away.. And its not worth the hassle and embarrassment of asking for help...43

  • yeah but
    April 16, 2014 - 22:10

    "...she also tried to explain that the fourth quarter forecast has not yet been completed and that her department may have indeed already spent that money." Yeah but on what is the question. More loans to friends? more parties re 2014? This govt should be ashamed of themselves, but you will answer to a higher power some day for screwing this island, and so hurting the people who live here.