The provincial government will invest $1.09 billion in the upcoming fiscal year to help seniors, low-income individuals, children and persons with disabilities. This figure is contained in the 2014-15 budget estimates of the Department of Social Development, released Friday.
"The investments we are making clearly demonstrate our government's commitment to providing essential programs and services to those in need," said Social Development Minister Madeleine Dubé. "Our overall priority continues to be delivering the best possible services to our clients while living within our means."
The safety, health and well-being of children-in-care remain a specific priority. An investment of $300,000 will increase rates provided to foster families by five per cent to help them meet the needs of children in their care.
An investment of $7.95 million will be used to extend the Canada – New Brunswick Agreement for Investment in Affordable Housing.
"By renewing this program, we can continue our progress to develop safe and affordable housing for low-income families, seniors and persons with disabilities," Dubé said. "I look forward to joining my federal colleagues in the coming months to announce the details of the new, five-year agreement."
The department is allocating $6.4 million from the $7.2 million budget for the Home First Strategy: to help seniors maintain their independence; to help them remain in their homes and communities; and to reduce costs while improving services by helping seniors avoid unneeded hospital stays and residential placements.
"The Home First Strategy will integrate services and sectors to deliver a comprehensive continuum of community-based care for seniors," Dubé said. "The programs and services needed to support seniors in their communities and maintain their health and independence will be outlined when the strategy is released in the coming weeks."
An investment of $725,000 will be used to increase support of home support agencies to $16.33 per hour from $16 per hour, effective Oct. 1. Wages for support home workers will go up by 25 cents per hour.
The home support sector will also receive an investment of $150,000 for the completion of standardized curriculum development and for the implementation of competency-based training for senior care workers.
"The home support program provides a valuable service to our seniors and is a key element in the long-term care strategy of the provincial government," the minister said. "Providing additional funding for wages and training to this important sector is a commitment of our government."
The department will invest $250,000 for a special care home sector study. It will identify best practices and an enhanced role for special care homes to provide alternate models of community-based care.
Another $215,000 will be invested to deliver training and development to special care home employees.
A total of $372,000 will be used to increase the per diem rate for community residences by $2.
Dubé said the provincial government will fulfil its commitment to modernize the Community Based Services for Children with Special Needs program by increasing the programs operating budget of the department by $1.5 million.
"With this funding, the provincial government will modernize the program so that it can better serve children with disabilities and their families," the minister said.
The disability supplement will be increased by a further five per cent, or $305,000, effective Oct. 1. The supplement helps persons with health- and disability-related expenses.
"With this investment our government fulfils its commitment to increase funding of this supplement by 20 per cent," said Dubé.
Dubé said the provincial government will fulfil another commitment by investing an additional $1 million to improve the Health Services Program, which provides equipment and technical aids to persons with disabilities.
Social assistance reforms introduced in 2013 represented the broadest number of policy changes to this program area since the 1990s. Work continues with an additional increase of three per cent to social assistance rates effective April 1.
As part of its ongoing work to reform social assistance, the department will invest $1.3 million effective Oct. 1 in the following ways:
– increase the flat wage exemption portion to $500 per month for persons with disabilities;
– increase the allowable asset limits for life insurance asset, prepaid funeral asset and business assets for all clients and applicants;
– increase the allowable asset limits for a registered retirement savings plan asset and liquid asset exemptions for clients and applicants with disablities; and
– implement a new youth services program with a new rate and benefits structure for persons 16 to 18.
"Our government is committed to reducing poverty in New Brunswick," said Dubé. "The ongoing improvements to the social assistance program demonstrate the commitment of our government to improving the quality of life for people in need."
The medical transportation benefits budget will be increased by $350,000. Effective April 1, the rates for private vehicles and taxis will increase by five cents per kilometre. This is intended to help social assistance recipients and low-income individuals who have a medical emergency and are unable to cover the cost of their travel.
Dubé said the department recognizes its responsibility to continue to deliver services efficiently and effectively.
"The department is rising to the challenge of finding efficiencies so that programs and services are sustained and can be delivered with the fiscal realities of the provincial government," said Dubé. "We must prioritize our resources where we can provide the greatest help to those who need it most."