BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. allows single parents to get assistance while in job-training programs

03/11/2015 04:51 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - British Columbia is banking on single parents getting income assistance to boost their job skills with incentives including payments for tuition and child care.

Labour Minister Shirley Bond said the Single Parent Employment Initiative, due to start in September, allows parents to stay on assistance for one year while training for a job.

The program also covers education costs for approved training programs, transportation costs to and from school, and full child-care costs during the job-training period, she said Wednesday.

"Is it right to say to a single parent who is struggling that you either stay home with your children or you go to a training program?" Bond said. "We said, 'No, that's not good enough.' There needs to be support so that a person can choose to go to school confident their child is in proper care."

The province plans to invest $24.5 million over the next five years to help single parents receiving government assistance complete job-training programs.

B.C. estimates that by 2022, there will be one million job openings in the province. Of those potential jobs, more than 78 per cent will require some form of post-secondary education and 44 per cent will be in skilled trades and technical fields, say government estimates.

The province's energy industry, especially exports of liquefied natural gas, is being promoted as a huge potential job and revenue generator. So far, LNG companies are only expressing interest in the province. None have made a decision to start production.

The program was announced at a joint news conference that included Bond, Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell, Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux and advocates for single parents.

Stilwell, who said the program represents a significant social shift for the Liberal government, said 16,000 people on income assistance are eligible for the program.

"Our hope is everyone who qualifies will take advantage of this opportunity," she said.

Cadieux said poverty limits choice and opportunities and the employment initiative gives single parents short-term help that could pay huge dividends.

She said single parents currently attending post-secondary programs are not eligible for assistance payments and day-care costs are subsidized, but not fully covered.

The new program will pay total monthly child care fees and cover education costs, Cadieux said.

"We know that child-care costs can be in excess of $1,200 depending on where you live in the province," she said. "We're just going to make sure they are covered."

Single mother Emi Yumura said the program has the potential to transform the lives of single parents and their children.

Yumura, who lives in Surrey with her two-year-old son, said she used the food bank and lived in supportive housing at the YWCA to help her complete a training program.

"I understand what a difference this will make for many single-parent families," she said. "We all have our own stories on how we got to where we are, but we all want to be productive members of society."

Earlier this week, Stilwell announced the doubling of earnings exemptions for families on income assistance.

Last month, the government announced poor single parents will no longer see their income assistance clawed back if they get child-support payments.

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