Province called leader in Canada

 By Natascia Lypny, The Leader-Post March 20, 2014



Amy McNeil, executive director of SARC, responds to the Saskatchewan Party 2014 budget in Regina on March 19, 2014

Photograph by: Don Healy , Regina Leader-Post

Saskatchewan has become an example to the rest of Canada in how it serves its residents with disabilities, say advocacy groups and service providers.

“We are leading the country, if not North America and the world, in supports for people with disabilities, and it’s something the Saskatchewan Party should be very proud of,” said Amy McNeil, executive director of SARC, after hearing the budget announced.

That budget, despite being tight, has been generous to people with disabilities, said Social Services Minister June Draude, to the tune of $446.2 million.

That’s an $84.3 million increase from last year.

“It’s a goal of our government, of our premier’s, to make Saskatchewan the best place to live if you have a disability,” said Draude.

“I think that budget underlines it.” That nearly half-billion allocation to disabilities services is largely devoted to the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program and communitybased organizations. Continuing with a previously committed increase, SAID will see a 54.6-per-cent boost this year, bringing benefits for a single person in residential care up to $130 per month; $300 for an independent-living individual; and $345 for independentliving couples.

Those changes take effect in June.

“Part of our goal was to make sure people on SAID were on a program that gave them dignity and respect and gave them a standard of living so that they knew that we respected and honoured them as individuals,” said Draude.

According to Kevin McTavish, the program is accomplishing just that.

The Saskatchewan Association for Community Living (SACL) executive director recalled a comment from a client when she found out how much money she’d be receiving under the program: “I’m going to be able to buy apples and oranges on the same shopping trip,” he remembered her saying.

At first estimated to serving 8,000 to 10,000 people, SAID is now paying benefits to 12,000 and continues to receive applications in the hundreds per year.

Many are transfers from the Saskatchewan Assistance Program.

The budget also increases its community-based organizations allocation by $20.4 million to better fund services for people with intellectual disabilities. Nearly $8 million of that investment will be directed toward transitioning residents out of the Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw. Its almost 200 residents are slated to move into community-based homes across the province.

The money also covers safety nets and respite homes for families in crisis situations or people whose moves are unsuccessful.

“I think at this point what the government is doing is unique in Canada,” said June Avivi of how Social Services is tackling its deinstitutionalization process. Her son has lived at Valley View for more than 40 years, and she’s played an active role in the centre’s transition steering committee, which includes family members, the SACL and the government.

“It has been a real lesson in learning how to work cooperatively, community and government,” she said.

“It’s being watched across Canada because people can’t believe it’s actually working.”

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