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Official opposition calling for increases to SAID program

Minister of Social Services Lori Carr responds it is a program of last resort.
SAID news conference 1
Barbara Sambasivam, sister of James MacLachlan, speaks at a media conference with Opposition critic Meara Conway.

REGINA — The Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program came under the microscope at the legislature Monday. 

The issue was raised by Opposition Social Services Critic Meara Conway, who held a media conference attended by James MacLachlan, a SAID recipient who lives with myotonic dystrophy and requires a wheelchair, and who lives in a care home. 

He was joined by his sister Barbara Sambasivam. The media availability also included social workers, anti-poverty advocates and representatives from Canadian Mental Health Association, Moose Jaw Food Bank and Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry. They called for the benefits for SAID to be increased.

Conway detailed MacLachlan’s plight. It was noted the Ministry of Social Services had decided to claw back his full CPP disability and long-term disability insurance from his time at SARCAN. In March 2022, MacLachlan appealed the decision and won, but the decision was overturned by the Ministry’s Social Services Appeal Board who found the practice was consistent with SAID policies and that only the minister could exempt the income. 

It was noted that decision had put James in a precarious situation, as he did not have enough to pay his rent.

“In this struggle, James is by no means alone, for the Sask. Party government has a proven track record of clawing back the pensions of people with disabilities,” Conway said.

Conway said she had written to Minister of Social Services Lori Carr several times, and “put her on notice that her ministry has engaged in a discriminatory practice against folks living with a long-term and enduring disability, and so far she has refused to change this policy.”

MacLachlan and the various representatives all attended the legislative proceedings Monday. During Question Period, Conway raised the issue directly with Minister Carr.

“This government has presided over cut after cut after cut to the SAID program,” Conway said. 

She described SAID as an income replacement program for people with enduring disability, adding there had not been an increase in seven years, representing a cut in benefits of 20 per cent.

Minister of Social Services Lori Carr responded that Social Services does have programs to assist individuals to overcome their challenges, earn more income and become self-sufficient, and be able to participate in their communities. She said that since their government brought SAID in in 2009, they have had four increases over that period. She also pointed out that the community the program serves had asked for a program for years, only to be “ignored by the members opposite who never put a program in place.”

“That member knows well there has not been an increase in seven years,” Conway retorted, pointing out other program cuts.

Conway then pointed to MacLachlan’s situation. She said that after MacLachlan applied for SAID, he learned Social Services would be clawing back his CPP pension as well as his SARCAN pension, leaving him eligible for $83 a month. She said the clawbacks would mean MacLachlan would not be able to live in his home.

Carr responded the SAID program, as well as the SIS program (debated the week before) were “programs of last resort” for individuals. Carr then read into the record words from Hansard from former Premier Lorne Calvert, that “social assistance and welfare be funding of last resort.”

“This is not welfare,” responded an outraged Conway. “This is an income replacement program … what an out of touch and cruel response from that Minister.”

Conway then pointed out that the Minister had appealed to the Social Services Appeal Board after MacLachlan had received a favourable ruling for MacLachlan to the Social Services Appeal Board, which then overturned the ruling. 

She asked if the minister would exempt MacLachlan’s SARCAN and disability pension so he could remain in his home. When Carr reiterated again that SAID was a program of last resort, Conway responded, “James is here as a last resort.”

At the end of the exchange, Carr said she would agree to meet with MacLachlan after Question Period.

In speaking to reporters afterwards, Carr noted all income that individuals receive, whether it is earned income or pension benefits, is treated as income and is taken off before benefits are taken off. 

"Our SAID benefits are actually amongst the highest across Canada," said Carr, noting it was third-highest. She also reiterated their income assistance programs "truly are programs of last resort."

Carr also pledged that she would work with MacLachlan on an individual basis to see if there were benefits he could qualify for over and above the basic allowance. "That's something we would look at."