MacDonald to ask Public Accounts Committee to review financial hardship program

June 11, 2014

(Halifax, NS) NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald is asking that the Superintendent of Pensions appear as a witness at a future Public Accounts Committee meeting. MacDonald wants the superintendent to testify about the administration of the financial hardship program, which allows individuals to unlock, and access, a portion of their pension under specific circumstances. She says given recent concerns, the program needs to be reviewed.

The financial hardship program came under scrutiny after the Chronicle Herald published a story about Julie Biron. Biron was without power and facing eviction from her apartment, but was told she could not access $5,000 of her retirement plan to help get her finances back in order. Eventually, facing public pressure, the Department of Labour conceded that Ms. Biron did qualify for the program and the situation was resolved.

MacDonald says that when the program was first created in 2006 she had some misgivings, but has since witnessed the benefits of the program to individuals facing financial hardship.

“When the program was first created I had concerns that there weren’t enough parameters around it, which could lead to misuse,” said MacDonald. “But since then, I’ve had the chance to assist people like Julie Biron, who if it wasn’t for the financial hardship program, would be facing eviction right now.”

She added, “I’ve had several people contact me in recent weeks who should qualify for the program but are being denied access. We need to find out why this is happening and the Public Accounts Committee is the appropriate venue to do so.” 

Dartmouth resident Patti Smith said she recently contacted the Superintendent of Pensions and was discouraged with how she was treated. Smith has been forced to use Pay Day loans recently to cover her household expenses. She was hoping to access a portion of her pension savings to help get herself back on sound financial footing.

“I called the Superintendent’s office in April and they were very dismissive of my concerns,” said Smith. “Right now I’m struggling to pay the bills and the way I was treated was extremely discouraging.”

Smith subsequently contacted Liberal MLA Andrew Younger’s office, but was told the Superintendent of Pension was her only avenue for support.