Everyone agrees that poverty, especially child poverty, is a serious issue in Saskatchewan. The government of Saskatchewan believes that employment is the best solution to poverty. When people work they gain valuable skills and experience that lead to more lucrative jobs until, ultimately, they no longer require any form of government assistance. Too often, however, individuals and families face barriers that make it difficult to enter or stay in the work force, such as lack of education and training, lack of affordable child care, the loss of health benefits for children when leaving welfare and the impacts of disabilities.
Building Independence consists of four programs - the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement (SES), the Saskatchewan Child Benefit (SCB), Family Health Benefits (FHB) and the Provincial Training Allowance (PTA). These programs help families enter and stay in the work force by directly addressing barriers to employment.
To date, the results have been remarkable. In the four years since Building Independence was introduced, 4,658 families, including 10,500 children, are no longer living on welfare. Overall, the number of families on welfare has declined by 28.4 percent and the number of children living in families on welfare dropped by 30 percent over the same period. Mere statistics, however, tell only part of the story.
Cecilia is a single mother of two young girls living in Saskatoon. Although employed, Cecilia’s modest income meant money was tight.
"I had two young children and a mortgage and other bills to pay." Cecilia says. "I was at the crossroads, thinking ’What am I going to do?’ I was worried about losing my house and my savings. I didn’t think I had any choice but to apply for social assistance."
Instead of welfare, however, Cecilia found out about the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement.
SES provides a monthly benefit to low-income families with earnings from either employment, self-employment, or maintenance income. SES works to remove barriers to the workforce by helping families with the child-related costs of going to work, such as child care and transportation.
"The Saskatchewan Employment Supplement and the Saskatchewan Child Benefit have made a real difference," Cecilia says. "These programs help me pay for baby sitting and getting my daughters around town. They also help me give my daughters little extras that I might not be able to afford on my own, like Christmas presents and swimming lessons."
Building Independence helps families with their children's medical expenses as well. Families who receive either SCB, SES or PTA also qualify for Family Health Benefits (FHB). FHB provides drug, dental, optometry and other coverage for children, as well as partial coverage for parents.
"Fortunately, my kids have been healthy, but the health benefits help when they do get sick. I can also make sure they get to see the dentist for checkups," Cecilia says. "The health benefits have been a big help to me, too. I was able to get chiropractic treatment. Without it, I would have had to cut back the number of hours I work."
A unique feature of Building Independence is the ease with which families apply for the programs. Eligibility for SCB is automatically determined by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (formerly Revenue Canada) when you file your income tax. Families can apply for SES by phoning a toll-free number - there are no forms to fill out or mail in.
"I like the flexibility," Cecilia says. "You can phone in early in the morning or in the evening, not just during regular business hours, so it’s a real benefit for people who work shifts. Another thing I like is the timing. Being paid at the end of the month means I don’t have to worry as much about stretching my pay cheque."
Cecilia’s family is just one of the many thousands of families across Saskatchewan who have benefited from Building Independence. The programs are helping parents not only to become independent, but also to provide a better future for their children.
"If I didn’t have this help, I would have had to go on social assistance,’ Cecilia says. "These programs have meant a lot to me."