Nunavut MLAs look at how to avoid income support abuses

Food coupons could encourage income support recipients to buy more food


If you’re on income support in Nunavut, you can spend your money however you wish.

That was the message from a discussion held in the Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole Feb. 27 after Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott said he knows “some income support recipients actually use some of the funding that they receive for purchasing alcohol orders.”

“Are they allowed to purchase items like alcohol and cigarettes using their income support funding?” Elliott asked during an examination of the income support budget, which is overseen by Premier Eva Aariak, also Nunavut’s education minister.

Aariak stated that there is nothing written in the legislation or in the regulations which says what people on social assistance can or can’t buy.

“Our income support workers couldn’t actually enforce not purchasing certain items if it’s not in the Act or regulations, but the income support money that is given out to the client is for food and clothing,” Aariak said.

While “in the olden days, we used to be able to write on the cheques, “food only,” so that that’s all they can spend the money on. But now with the link cards and debit cards, clients now can put their cheques straight in the link card, and then there’s no control over the spending on what they can use it for. So with modern day technology, it’s kind of taken that out of our control, out of our hands,” said Department of Education official Sandy Tieman.

That prompted Rankin Inlet Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley to later suggest that Nunavut’s income support legislation be amended to stop abuses of income support money which is spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling instead of food.

“There’s a lot of that going on,” Aariak acknowledged. “But we have to work with people that write legislation as to how we can make sure the income support money is not being abused on those things that we talked about and we have to work with the Department of Justice on that because we cannot take
away the rights of individuals or we cannot infringe on their human rights.”

Aariak promised to look into Curley’s suggestion to hand out food coupons to income support recipients which would be specifically used to buy food.

Other abuses cited in the discussion of the social assistance across the territory included individuals not declaring income when they make income, clients who declare that they’re separated when one spouse gets a job and people travelling between communities that will go into both offices and apply for social assistance.

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