Social aspects of budget pleasant surprise: activists

Everton McLean
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Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy made it clear when talking about the budget Thursday; in a year when the province could have decreased social spending it, instead, extended programs.

"We could have cut social programs," he said, noting recent cuts in other provinces hard hit by the recession.

Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy made it clear when talking about the budget Thursday; in a year when the province could have decreased social spending it, instead, extended programs.

"We could have cut social programs," he said, noting recent cuts in other provinces hard hit by the recession.

Leslie MacLeod of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women said she was pleased to see a focus on violence prevention and, for the first time, some funding for the multicultural women's organization.

As well, the new transition house in Conception Bay North and a Rigolet safe house will help women in difficult situations.

"It's a huge advancement," she said.

Money was set aside for supportive housing and support to alleviate homelessness.

On the home-support front, she said, the dramatic reduction in the amount clients have to pay was a welcome surprise.

"We were astonished at the recalculation for home support. We've been advocating that people should not have to be driven into poverty for home support," she said.

Lana Payne, president of the province's labour federation, said the budget was solid despite the recession.

"Some of the things we've been looking for were there," she said.

She said the government's $900-million infrastructure stimulus program was something the labour movement was looking for in order to keep people working during the recession, but it was the increases in social spending that she was most pleased with.

"We're certainly pleased to see the extra measures behind poverty reduction, that's always a good thing," she said.

She was also pleased with the violence prevention measures.

However, Payne said she would have liked to see more funding for early childhood learning and child care.

Canadian Union of Public Employees president Wayne Lucas also honed in on what he called a weak increase in child-care funding.

Lucas said the province should have moved towards Quebec's universal child-care model, which reduces the cost of child care to $7 per day. He said that would create jobs while improving daycare services.

Meanwhile, George Murray of the Association of Cultural Industries Newfoundland and Labrador said the budget maintains the status quo for the sector, noting arts funding is usually the first to go in tough times.

The province also announced a new Child, Youth and Family Services Department, which is getting an $8.5-million investment to start up. It will hire 23 people to get the department in action, although Health and Community Services Minister Ross Wiseman said he couldn't give a timeline on when the department will officially begin operations.

He said carving the responsibilities away from his department shows a concerted effort to strengthen the services offered to youth in the province.

emclean@thetelegram.com




social spending

Overall $132.2-million investment in the Poverty Reduction Strategy
The low-income tax reduction level increased from $13,511 to $15,911
Rent for Newfoundland Labrador Housing tenants reduced
$3 million will support early childhood development, $1.3 million to increase child-care subsidy rates for children up to 12
$11.3 million to strengthen the social safety net
New assessment process for home-care clients, saving thousands for many users
Liquid asset exemption raised from $5,000 to $10,000 per person for residents of seniors homes, long-term care homes or other residential programs.
New Child, Youth and Family Services Department will get $8.5 million to start up, including hiring 23 new people
Foster care homes get extra $1.3 million to improve foster care rates.
$100,000 for Multicultural Women's Organization and increased funding for women's centres and family violence court
$60,000 for safe house in Rigolet and $100,000 media campaign against male violence
$1.2 million for Carbonear transition house
Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Organizations: Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Youth and Family Services Department, Union of Public Employees Association of Cultural Industries Newfoundland and Labrador Health and Community Services Carbonear transition house

Geographic location: Conception Bay North, Quebec, Multicultural Women Newfoundland and Labrador

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