Saskatchewan landlords say they are “in a morally difficult situation”, forced to choose between evicting tenants whose welfare benefits were clawed back during the COVID-19 pandemic and forgoing rental income on which they are counting.
Tenants who normally pay rent with the help of provincial income support or disability benefits have seen those payments reduced or cut because they received the Canadian Federal Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while ‘they were not entitled to the money and were behind on the rental.
“The landlords then have no rental income for those few months and, ultimately, are forced to evict the tenants who have not paid rent,” said Cameron Choquette, general manager of Saskatchewan Landlord Association.
Most provinces banned non-emergency evictions in the early months of the pandemic, but these have since been lifted. In Saskatchewan, landlords have filed more than 1,000 eviction applications with the Residential Rent Board since Aug. 4 asking a sheriff to fire tenants, but there is no tracking system to measure how many tenants simply complied with a vacancy request or how many were related to lack of government assistance.
While rent cuts normally pit landlords against tenants, Choquette blames the provincial government for creating a systemic problem.
“It puts us in a very difficult moral situation,” said Choquette.
“These conversations are hard to have with the families who have really applied for these CERB benefits in hopes of a helping hand and have been really taken to their knees because provincial programs are now clawing back these income assistance funds. . “
People, he said, are “left homeless, without food or shelter, in what will be a cold and snowy winter.”
Provinces have their own clawback policies
The federal CERB program, which has now ended, provided temporary income support to people who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19, paying $ 500 per week for up to 16 weeks. Canadians who had earned more than $ 5,000 in the previous 12 months were eligible, but applicants were not required to provide proof that they had been laid off or lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
The program paid about $ 80 billion in benefits to nearly nine million people before ending in September.
Some people on disability benefits in low-paying jobs were eligible for CERB, but others were not. In some cases, people have shifted from provincial aid to more paid CERBs, while in others, they have seen both – what is called “double perception”.
The consequences depend on where they live in Canada.
Saskatchewan and most of the Atlantic provinces decided to cut provincial aid or to claw back payments dollar for dollar of the amount recipients received from CERB. Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec instituted partial clawbacks, while British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon allowed people to keep provincial and federal benefits.
Shane Simpson, then British Columbia’s Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, said in an April 2 statement that it was a way to “complement federal crisis measures to support our people. the most vulnerable and ensure that they do not sink further into poverty. a result of COVID-19. “
The office of Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who was responsible for CERB, said the clawback of provincial aid was “unfair” and provinces and territories should not penalize recipients of the aid. emergency income assistance.
Qualtrough “has been a strong advocate for provinces and territories to allow federal COVID-19 emergency income measures and benefits to complement provincial supports,” spokeswoman Marielle Hossack said in an email to TBEN News.
Broke and homeless
Dorie Arnold, 43, is one of those who lost her provincial income support after graduating from CERB.
The Regina resident says she is broke, homeless and worse off than before, has started receiving federal aid.
Arnold was evicted from her two-bedroom rental suite in north-central Regina after failing to pay rent of $ 800 per month for three months. His owner also put plywood on the door of his apartment.
Until recently, she had always had enough money to earn rent, even though she struggled to earn about $ 1,200 a month in provincial income and disability assistance. She has chronic health problems and has not been able to work for years.
Things started to deteriorate in July when she received advice about CERB from a stranger in the parking lot of a Tim Hortons.
“A lady came over to my mom and asked her if we are collecting the COVID money, and we were like, ‘No, we’ve never heard of it,’” said Arnold. “She said it’s free money that is given to low-income families to survive while COVID is absent.”
This was not correct and Arnold should not have qualified for CERB payments. She said no one had explained the criteria to her – or the consequences.
“A phone call and give your social insurance [number] and then boom, you get $ 2,000. It’s that simple, ”she said of the CERB process.
Arnold said a cockroach infestation in her apartment was so “disgusting” that she used most of her CERB money – $ 4,000 in total – to replace her furniture and blankets, and she then provided receipts to his provincial social worker to prove it.
Social services had always paid her rent directly to the landlord, she said, so it wasn’t until the end of August that she realized she was behind on rent. and that it had been cut off from provincial aid.
“It started to get more difficult, not knowing how I was going to pay [rent]. Where I was going to go, ”said Arnold.
WATCH | Northern Canada has received over $ 250 million in CERB funds since April:
Saskatchewan government defends decision
The Saskatchewan government maintains that the CERB was for people who lost their wages, not for welfare recipients. If social workers found out early that someone had applied for the benefit, their provincial assistance was cut off and they were told to reapply in 60 days. But if someone raised federal and provincial funds at the same time and got caught later, Social Services worked out a long-term repayment schedule for the CERB money that includes cuts for the months ahead.
Paul Merriman, the former Saskatchewan Minister of Social Services who is now Minister of Health, told TBEN Morning Edition in September that he didn’t think the payback was “petty.”
“We are not punishing them,” Merriman said. “Our [provincial] programs are a program of last resort, and they should be used like that. If someone does not tell us their income or a change in circumstances, it is because they are violating the terms of the contract we have with them. “
Merriman said anyone who received CERB Ottawa and the province’s disability support “could have received up to $ 3,600 per month for four months.” It is a considerable sum ”.
Every dollar counts
Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, which advocates for low-income families, said he was troubled that the Saskatchewan government was clawing back social assistance benefits when it cost the province nothing for people to collect federal CERBs.
“We see this as the province that saves money on the backs of the poorest people in the province,” Gilmer said.
“They got it back 100%. It ended up being a federal transfer to the province where they saved CERB funds instead of being a real benefit to people on provincial income assistance programs who really needed it. I think it’s really disturbing. “
Shawn Schlechter, owner of Shawn’s Property Management, which oversees 550 rental properties in Regina, said he needs to cut rent or develop payment plans for tenants feeling the pinch from falling welfare payments.
Most still receive sufficient provincial assistance to cover their rent or most of it, he said, and was told that small cuts would be made for months on the living allowance portion of the assistance benefits. social.
“It’s sad because the $ 50 they lose each month can make a big difference for a single mom,” he said.
Dorie Arnold, who was cut off entirely, hasn’t received any money in months.
In October, she found food and shelter at Pasqua Hospital in Regina after an untreated finger injury developed into a severe infection. She spent seven weeks in the hospital and was released on Thursday.
She has an appointment with social services next week and hopes to be able to recover provincial income assistance.
Until then, she’ll be surfing the couch and counting on the kindness of her family and friends to survive.