Frontline worker hero pay could be clawed back from disability benefits

Frontline worker hero pay could be clawed back from disability benefits
WatchTemporary frontline worker 'hero pay' could be clawed back from B.C. disability benefits. Tess van Straaten reports.

Frontline worker Sheenagh Morrison is a Special Olympics’ athlete who loves her part-time job at the Hillside Thrifty Foods collecting shopping carts.

“I love the people I work with, I love the community aspect of it and I love that I’m outdoors,” Sheenagh says.

Sheenagh was nervous about working during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she needs the money to supplement her disability income.

The hero pay she got as a frontline worker helped her make ends meet.

But now, that hero pay will push her above the disability exemption limit.

“I’m pretty upset and I’m pretty scared because I thought the hero pay was a gift,” Sheenagh says. “I thought the hero pay was a thank you gift and I didn’t think that I’d have to worry about my January rent.”

People on provincial disability can make up to $12,000 a year.

But income over that will be clawed back dollar-for-dollar — including hero pay.

“All other COVID-related financial benefits are exempt so the fact that hazard pay isn’t exempt for people for people that are on provincial disability is a blatant disadvantage for people who kept working,” says Madyson Powell of the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS).

No one from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction was available for an interview.

But in a statement, they told CHEK News:

“Temporary pandemic pay is considered to be part of a client’s earnings exemption limit. This is consistent with the treatment of other earnings related to the pandemic including wage subsidies and employer-provided wage increases.”

For Sheenagh, cutting back her hours — and trying to live on less — is now the only way to keep her full disability payment.

“I’m worried about all my friends,” Sheenagh says.  “There’s so many of us that work for grocery stores and got the hero pay and now they might be cut off as well.”

The exemption limit will go up to $15,000 next year.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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