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PC MLA criticizes P.E.I. government over social assistance reporting practices

PC MLA Brad Trivers, chair of the public accounts committee, listens during the committee meeting on Wednesday.
PC MLA Brad Trivers, chair of the public accounts committee, listens during the committee meeting on Wednesday. - Terrence McEachern

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The Department of Family and Human Services is not complying with legislation when it comes to reporting on P.E.I.’s social assistance program.

That was a focus for PC MLA Brad Trivers, chairman of the province’s public accounts committee, while reviewing auditor general Jane MacAdam’s 2018 report Wednesday.

MacAdam told the committee the department has not issued annual reports about the social assistance program for the last four fiscal years as required by legislation.

Trivers placed the blame at the feet of Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy.

“For the last decade or so, really, (the department has) been asleep at the wheel. And, the reviews aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to,” said Trivers. “The information’s not getting to executive council, so they can review basic things like the rates themselves that are being paid.”

MacAdam told the committee the department has not developed performance indicators to monitor the social assistance program’s success. 

The auditor general said the department has yet to file a separate annual report to the legislative assembly. Instead, the department has included information on the program in its own annual reports, but those haven’t been tabled since February 2015, for the 2012-13 fiscal year. 

Asked if the backlog of reports needs to be completed, MacAdam said the Financial Administration Act requires the department to do so.

“For the last decade or so, really, (the department has) been asleep at the wheel. And, the reviews aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to. The information’s not getting to executive council, so they can review basic things like the rates themselves that are being paid.”
-Brad Trivers

She also recommended the department provide information annually to the province’s executive council and that social assistance rate changes be approved by the executive council.

According to the Social Assistance Act regulations, executive council is required to annually review rate changes and exemptions, but MacAdam said this did not occur in 10 instances between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2017.

MacAdam said food rate increases were sometimes delayed for five to seven months, and a planned rate increase for April 1, 2017, was not implemented until December of that year.

She also explained that as of Jan. 1 shelter payments had not increased in four years, and rates for clothing, household and personal requirements were not increased in 10 years.

Green Party MLA Hannah Bell said the rise of rental costs over that time for an average priced two-bedroom apartment would leave someone on social assistance about $300 short on rent.

The auditor general’s report says social assistance payments on average were $34 million annually over the past five years. Of that amount, 95 per cent was allocated for regular monthly benefits, including 52 per cent for shelter, 36 per cent for food and six per cent for clothing.

MacAdam’s report also notes that continued eligibility reviews for financial assistance were not always completed in a timely manner and annual reviews were often overdue. 

The public accounts committee review of the auditor general’s report is scheduled to continue April 25.

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