MacDonald: Premier should act now to fix Financial Hardship Program

October 29, 2014

NDP leader Maureen MacDonald says it’s time for the Premier to address issues he now admits are present in the Financial Hardship Program.

“Today the Premier acknowledged that changes can be made to the Financial Hardship Program to help Nova Scotians. It’s time for the Premier to act on his concerns and see that these changes are made,” said MacDonald.

At a provincial Public Accounts meeting today, Oct. 29, the Nova Scotia Superintendent of Pensions appeared as a witness to talk about the Financial Hardship Program.

“The Superintendent of Pensions had no rationale as to why people are being charged a fee to access their own pension funds in times of financial hardship. We think that is a very wrongheaded policy,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald also criticized the Liberal government for failing to be transparent with Nova Scotians about a new procedure being used to prioritize applications. Through a Freedom of Information request (attached here) the NDP Caucus learned priority will be given to applicants who mention they are without food, heat, or power as well as, at the request of MLAs.

MacDonald says she is concerned government isn’t communicating this information to people applying to the program. If fact, according to the FOIPOP, the Superintendent of Pensions says the Department of Community Services cautioned her, “about being too explicit about how priorities are established,”.

“People applying to this program have a right to know if they should be contacting their MLA about their application, if they should indicate if they are going without food, heat or power in their application. Why wouldn’t government want Nova Scotians to know that?” said MacDonald.

On Oct. 8, 2014 MacDonald introduced Bill 23 in the House of Assembly which would see a number of changes made to the Financial Hardship Program, including the creation of a formal appeals process for people who are dissatisfied with a decision on their application, removing the processing fee of $113.25 charged to successful applicants, and allowing qualified applicants to obtain funds for emergency home repairs needed to maintain home insurance.

“It’s time for the Minister of Finance to remove the application fee and make others changes to improve fairness and transparency in how this program is delivered.”