HALIFAX — Nova Scotians living in homeless shelters and transition houses will begin receiving a monthly allowance in October — part of an $11 million government investment for people living in poverty.
The Department of Community Services announced Thursday the province will provide about $100 a month to people living in poverty to help them buy things like personal hygiene items and other essentials.
"We want all Nova Scotians to have the dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence they need to move their lives forward," said Kelly Regan, Minister of Community Services, in a press release.
"That's why we're changing the way we work with Nova Scotia's most vulnerable people."
The allowance would be available to any Nova Scotian eligible for income assistance and living in a shelter or transition house.
Sheri Lecker, executive director of Adsum for Women and Children, said the money can be used for recipients to buy personal or comfort items that shelters and transition houses might not provide: from some types of over-the-counter medications to an ice cream cone on a hot day.
"Imagine wanting to have an ice cream and not having money for an ice cream," she said. "These are relatively small items, but they allow some choice, they allow the ability to spend something."
For people living in poverty, there's an extra cost for women in particular: feminine hygiene items like pads and tampons, which can run between $10-$15 a box.
Lecker said Adsum — an organization with an emergency shelter and transition homes for women, children, and transgender people — provides these items to women in need, so they won't have to spend their allowance on them.
The province also said it's doubling the Poverty Reduction Credit, a quarterly payment to eligible Nova Scotians on income assistance, to $500 a year.
This marks a big change, according to Melissa Phillips, director of homelessness for Shelter Nova Scotia, who said people living in shelters were previously ineligible for that credit.
"It's more money in the pockets of people who are vulnerable and low-income, and it's there to alleviate some of the challenges people are facing," she said.
"It really speaks to the recognition that all Nova Scotians, regardless of their circumstances, have a right to a certain degree of dignity."
The first adjusted cheques were issued on July 4 and were retroactive to April 1, according to the release.
As part of the announcement, the province also said parents on income assistance will no longer have child support deducted from their monthly payments beginning in August.
"It's about time," said Miia Suokonautio, executive director of YWCA Halifax.
"I think most Nova Scotians would agree that child support payments shouldn't be clawed out of income assistance."
Suokonautio said the majority of single parents on income assistance are women, and about a third of them receive child support. She said the average amount of monthly child support is around $275.
"This will be a significant difference for those households: in come cases this will mean the difference between an apartment that rents at $650 a month and an apartment that rents at $850."
She added that work still needs to be done to meet the needs of the rest of single parents on income assistance who don't receive child support, saying the other parent might not have a way to pay it.
And in some cases — especially for single mothers — Suokonautio said they may feel unsafe around the other parent.
In October, the province will also introduce the first part of the Standard Household Rate, a wage exemption allowing some people to keep more of their earnings before seeing a reduction of income assistance.
Brandon Grant, executive director of the province's Employment Support and Income Assistance program, said this change will help low-income earners become more financially stable.
"We're hopeful that not only will it assist the (income assistance) clients that are working now, but it will also encourage more clients to try part-time work," he said.
"We're confident in this because we heard directly from clients who said, 'This is what we need to do in order to move the dial.'"
Grant said the government will implement the second part of the Standard Household Rate, which will include a new rate structure, within the next couple of years.
Alex Cooke, The Canadian Press