March 26, 2001 SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE No. 1
The Committee met at 10:00 a.m. in the House of Assembly.
CHAIR (Sweeney): Order, please!
Good morning. I guess the first duty I have this morning is to elect a Vice-Chair, so the first thing I am looking for this morning is a motion to elect a Vice-Chair.
On motion of Ms Hodder, seconded by Mr. Mercer, Mr. Manning was elected Vice-Chair.
CHAIR: Congratulations, Fabian.
Minister, would you want to start with the introduction of your staff?
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, everyone. To my left is the deputy minister of the department, Vivian Randell; next to Vivian this morning we have Dave Roberts, who is ADM with responsibility for Corporate Services; next to Dave we have Alison Earle, ADM with responsibility for Programs and Regional Services; and bringing up the rear we have Mr. Wayne Penney, Director of Income Support - Wayne is back here - and Dave Miller, Director of Finance.
CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.
I think what I will do now is just give a brief format as to how we proceed. I think the normal procedure is that the minister would give a short presentation at the beginning, normally not longer than fifteen minutes. Elizabeth, you can correct me at any time. This will come back to me after a little while. Following that, we will proceed with questioning. It has been the practice, I guess, that the Vice-Chair lead off with the questioning and then we alternate between each side; so, I guess the Vice-Chair will be carrying both roles there this morning. We keep doing that until we figure all the questions have been asked, or all those necessary to be asked. Then we will decide after that, by consent, if all the questions have been asked.
With that brief introduction I will ask Elizabeth, in a moment, to call the first head. Again I will ask, for clarification for the members of the Committee, probably there are two ways to proceed. One is to call each individual head, discuss each separately and take a vote; or, it has been the practice many times, I guess, to call the first head and then discuss the entire Estimates around that one head. I guess, it is up to the Committee how we want to proceed.
WITNESS: (Inaudible) call the first head.
CHAIR: Call the first head and then we will proceed from there. Okay.
Elizabeth, do you want to call the first head?
CLERK (Ms E. Murphy): Head 1.1.01. Minister's Office.
CHAIR: Head 1.1.01. Minister's Office.
Oh, I am sorry. We have to have our minister's comments first.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is a privilege and a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to be here this morning to represent the Department of Human Resources and Employment, along with my officials, to try to respond to questions that may be raised by the members of your Committee relative to the Budget Estimates for our department.
Just to give you a brief overview with regard to the operations of the department: as you would all be aware, and I know most of you have had occasion to deal directly with the department, the Department of Human Resources and Employment is mandated to provide programs and services to low income individuals and families in helping them meet their financial needs. In addition, the department also offers a range of career and employment services, with special emphasis on assisting persons facing barriers to labor market participation to acquire the skills, expertise and supports needed to obtain employment.
For the upcoming fiscal year 2001-2002, the department has a budget of approximately $262 million, with a staff complement of some 600 providing programs to clients from forty-eight district offices located throughout the Province. During the fiscal year 2000-2001, on average, the department served approximately 54,000 income-support clients monthly. In addition, during the year, we assisted approximately 3,500 clients with labour market programming.
The department is divided into three branches: the Corporate Services Branch, which provides services such as finance, human resources, social services appeals board; the Programs and Regional Services Branch, which provides clients with employment and career services and income support; and the Policy and Planning Branch, which assists in identifying and improving client services.
Since April 1, 1997, when the former Department of Social Services split to become Human Resources and Employment, HRE has been working on people development, an important part of economic development. I am sure that you would be aware as well that the Minister of Human Resources and Employment is also the lead minister with regard to the Strategic Social Plan.
In the fiscal year 2001-2002, the department will continue with its commitment to redesign its programs and services. Initiatives implemented since redesign was introduced in 1998 include the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit, extended drug card coverage to income support clients who are making the transition to employment, and the NewfoundJOBS which helps clients look for and maintain employment.
The next critical element in redesigning HREs programs and services is to develop a new computerized pay system to replace one that dates back to the mid-1970s, which produces approximately 75,000 cheques a month. To enhance delivery and improve efficiencies, in this fiscal year the department will invest $1.8 million to begin to develop a new computerized pay system.
It is rather interesting that one of the first things I was alerted to, upon assuming the position of Minister of Human Resources and Employment, was the fact that we do have a rather antiquated system, and such an integral part of providing services to our clients, and a great deal of concern within the department that we need to move forward to modernize the pay system. We are well under way; there is a fair amount of work that has been done. Hopefully this year, with the additional monies that will be voted, we will be able to continue with that very important work.
Under Income Support, during the past three years significant improvements have been introduced to the Social Assistance Program which has contributed to people on social assistance being supported fairly and equitably. In addition, initiatives have been introduced to reduce barriers experienced by clients in making the transition to employment. Some examples of new initiatives include: the introduction of the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit, which is a direct attempt, in addition to support to families, to address the whole area of child poverty; increased earning exemptions; the introduction of a $500 exemption for income tax refunds; increased liquid asset levels; increased private child care allowances; an extended drug card program.
Substantive progress has been made on initiatives which have helped reduce the income support caseload to the lowest in a decade. The income support caseload has declined year over year since 1997. In December, 2000, the caseload declined to $28,800, its lowest level since October, 1992. Reasons for this decline include: improved economy; government employment initiatives; changes in the income support program; and demographics, in particular out-migration. The 2001-2002 budget provides for a caseload of $28,800 at a total of $211.5 million dollars. In last year's budget, 2000-2001, the caseload was funded at $30,600 at a cost of $219.1 million. This year we are projecting the budget to decline by $7.6 million as the caseload is projected to continue to decline by some 1,800 cases. Given the December 2000 caseload of $28,800 this is, we feel, a reasonable projection.
In 2001-2002 the department will continue to deliver programs aimed directly at low income families and income support clients by first of all providing the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit, a financial benefit that is delivered with the Canada Child Tax Credit and helps low income families, including families on social assistance, with the cost of raising children. Effective July 1, 2001, the NLCB income threshold will be raised by $823 to $16,744 and at the upper level to $21,744. This change will mean that more families will be eligible for full benefit and more families will receive the benefit for a longer period to time. Approximately 5,000 low income families will experience modest increases to their annual Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit at a cost of some $300,000.
In the area of employment and career services, in the fiscal year 2001-2002, HRD will continue to offer employment and career services programs targeted at the unemployed: unemployed women, unemployed youth, clients on social assistance, and persons with disabilities. Included in these are expenditures, or estimates for expenditures, in the amount of $500,000 to the Single Parent Employment Support Program, the SESP, to assist single parents to find meaningful employment. Since 1998, the department has assisted 239 single parents through this program.
Secondly, investing $4.2 million in youth programming, including an investment of $1.2 million in the Linkages program which provides twenty-six weeks of career related employment and career services for youth between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four. An investment of $3 million to NewfoundJOBS, which gives priority to unemployed youth under the age of twenty-nine. In 2000-2001, 2,400 income support clients received a range of supports through this program.
Thirdly, $6.6 million, cost-shared with the federal government, will be provided to help people with disabilities enter the labour market through the Employment Assistance for Persons with Disabilities, or EAPD Agreement.
In summary, the department will continue to focus its efforts on redesign, income support, to ensure clients are supported fairly and equitably. During the next year, the department will aggressively pursue its efforts to reduce and eliminate the barriers experienced by individuals in making the transition to the labour market.
I look forward to my term as Minister Responsible for Human Resource and Employment, and increasing the emphasis on labour market programming.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.
The Chair recognizes Ms Sheila Osborne, the Member for St. John's West.
MS S. OSBORNE: Thank you.
Opening Doors comes under the Department of Human Resources and Employment. I wonder if you could tell me how many clients have been served through the Opening Doors program and how many have obtained not just short-term work, where it is cost-shared, but have obtained long-term work through this program?
MR. SMITH: I will ask one of my officials if they can provide the particulars with regard to the numbers, but I am sure you would be aware that this is one program that certainly has been very, very successful. As a matter of fact, it has been interesting for me, in the short time that I have been with the department, to see the number of actual people we have within our own department who have been able to find employment within the department because of the availability of that program; but I will ask if one of my officials has details with regard to the numbers.
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, and I understand that some people come out and they are given the cost-shared one with the employer. How many people get to stay on and attain full-time, long-term employment?
MR. SMITH: I also just remind you, Mr. Chairman, that people need to identify themselves when they are speaking for purposes of the record.
CHAIR: Yes, please.
MR. SMITH: Alison.
MS EARLE: Ms Osborne, it was the Opening Doors program that you asked about?
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes.
MS EARLE: That program is actually administered through Treasury Board. What this department was doing was providing some additional funding to the program because it had been successful; it was cost-shared with HRDC. In fact this year in the budget, because it was an ongoing commitment and it was succeeding, we did transfer the money directly to Executive Council, Treasury Board, for that program. We really were not that directly involved with the actual design and delivery of the program.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay.
As well, the Single Parents Association of Newfoundland, the program that gets the single parents out into the workforce, can you tell me how many full-time, long-term jobs have been obtained through that program?
MR. SMITH: Basically, from the information that I have been provided with, with regard to that program, I think to date there are forty people who have been identified who have been in that program and are no longer on social assistance. I guess, in terms of your question, that would be the information you are looking for there.
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes.
MR. SMITH: I think the figure is forty that have been discharged from our caseloads because they have been able to access this program.
MS S. OSBORNE: Since the beginning of the program?
MR. SMITH: Yes.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, thank you.
That is all for now.
CHAIR: Anyone else?
MR. MANNING: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the minister on his appointment to head up the Department of Human Resources and Employment. I have known the minister before his political life and, as the department stand states, we need a human touch and I believe we have it with the new minister. We will wait and see on that, but my opening remarks will have to be certainly along those lines.
I would like to, if I could, just touch on a couple of things. In regard to programs that are available through the department, the Linkages seems to be one that is availed of by a fair amount of organizations throughout the Province. I guess there is always a need for more funding, but are there more requests than there is funding available through the Linkages program at the present time? Because I know of organizations that have applied and have just had some difficulty sometimes, so I am just wondering in regard to funding in relation to the requests that are put forward.
MR. SMITH: Thank you for that question, Fabian.
I think your open statement, not with regard to me but with regard to the program, is accurate. Not to suggest that the opening initial remarks were not accurate either, but I think in terms of the Linkages program, it is a program that I personally had some direct dealings with. It is an excellent program. I think you are right on when you say that. Now, as to whether or not right now the requests that we are receiving, the demand exceeds the availability of funding, I do know that during this past year in my own district we certainly could have used more; so I think the figure that is there for this year is realistic in terms of the level of take-up that there is at this point in time. It is certainly a program that we are committed to and that we will continue to fund.
I think the figure that is there is probably reasonable but certainly we would like to see, at some point in time, more money into that program. I guess what is happening is that, as people are becoming familiar with the program and aware of the possibilities, we are getting more and more interest expressed in it. I think it is probably an area where you are going to see the need for increased funding down the road; but I feel pretty comfortable that, with what we have there this year, we will be able to respond to the needs that have been identified out there.
MR. MANNING: I will get to another topic, if I could. You mentioned the 600 staff and forty-eight districts offices. I guess there is a district office in each one of our provincial districts? Would that be the case?
MR. SMITH: I am not sure. Would there -
MR. SMITH: Yes, but it doesn't....
I don't know. I don't think it would be, no.
MR. MANNING: Okay. I just looked look at it because I found it strange (inaudible).
MR. SMITH: No, I don't think they would be broken down on those lines. I don't think so.
MR. MANNING: Okay. I just wanted to clear it up, for clarification purposes.
In regard to the appeal process that is in place, in regard to somebody who wants to appeal a decision that has been made by, I guess, one of the local offices - suffice to say, I deal a fair bit with the offices mostly in Placentia area. Again, my working relationship with those people is excellent in regard to, you know, they certainly go out of their way sometimes. It is just that sometimes with an appeal process, I am just wondering about the length of time it takes from when a person is rejected, for whatever reason - again, I was always told growing up that there are two sides to every story. I found in this job there could be 100 sides to the story before it is all washed out. In regard to the appeal process, the people in my area - Placentia, the Cape Shore area - usually have to travel to an appeal. There are a fair number of these people, I guess, who are not in the financial situation sometimes to do that. I was just wondering if there was any notion given to - I know you cannot go to every community, but - moving the appeals, even if they moved them into the Placentia office instead of the Whitbourne office, or whatever the case may be, in regard to bringing the appeals closer to the client?
MR. SMITH: That is an interesting question because of two things. First of all, in terms of the overall appeal process, I guess it is an area in which I have had a fair amount of experience personally in lobbying as you do on behalf of individual constituents. The process as it presently exists, really, there are two levels. There is an internal review that would happen fairly quickly in terms of a decision that is made, and beyond that the appeals board itself, I think, which is more to where your question is.
A short time ago a decision was made by the department, and basically the way those appeals are being done right now is: the clients are being given the opportunity to participate by telephone. It started out initially as kind of a pilot type thing, just to see what the response would be. I must say, initially when it was raised, I personally had some reservations as to how well it would work; because, having worked in the appeal process where I have actually sat down with people, I found that a lot of times people kind of needed that presence there, needed to feel they had that support there with them.
Right now when clients advise, first of all, that they desire to appeal a decision, they are advised that they do have the option to go through the telephone route. What will happen if they opt for that is, they will be advised of the time of the appeal. They may go to the social services office and be hooked up from there, or indeed they may do it directly from their home. Many of them chose to do that. If they have somebody representing them, whether it is an MHA or someone else, that person can be hooked up from their office or they can be there with the client, whichever. There are any number of options that you could use.
The information that I have been given since this new procedure and process has been brought in, is that right now it is almost a 100 per cent take-up; it is in the high nineties. Most people do opt to go that route because it is - the big advantage in terms of the department is that it reduces the amount of time and speeds up the process in terms of being able to hear the appeals. The main reason for doing it, as it was explained to me when I questioned it initially, was to be able to give the department the ability to respond more quickly to the needs. With the appeal board before, as you would know, it traveled around the Province and met in different areas, and this would take some time. Now, basically, it is a much simpler process; and obviously, from the response we are receiving from the clients, they feel this is a much more user-friendly process. It seems that they endorse this approach and it seems like the sort of thing that we will probably continue for some time.
MR. MANNING: Under Regional Operations 2.1.01. Client Services 03.Transportation and Communications, $1,081,700, I think I know what it is but could someone clarify what that expenditure is for, for the record?
MR. SMITH: What was that under?
MR. MANNING: Under Regional Operations 2.1.01. Client Services, 03. Transportation and Communications.
MR. SMITH: Head 2.1.01. What was the question?
MR. MANNING: Transportation and Communication, 03., you have a budget of $1,081,700. Could somebody explain exactly what that is used for?
MR. SMITH: This particular one refers to the regional operations. What you would have there would be a total for all the regional operations for the Province. It would be a breakout on that. Each of the four regions, like Avalon, Central, Western and Labrador, would each have a component out of that. That would provide for their transportation and communication costs to run their regional office. For example, just to give you the breakout for the Avalon, they would have an allocation of $300,750; Central, $342,150; Western, $245,550; and Labrador $183,650. Basically, for example, out of this would come things like postage, travel, and your communication costs of the staff engaged in delivery of the department's programs.
MR. MANNING: Under head 1.2.02. Administrative Support, page 200 in the Estimates book.
MR. SMITH: Yes.
MR. MANNING: Purchased Services, 1.2.02.06, $1,539,400.
MR. SMITH: The Purchased Services referenced there, included in that would be, for example, office rentals, printing, microfiching services, advertising, promotions, copier rentals, things of that nature, costs associated with operating the offices.
MR. MANNING: I am going to pass on to someone else now, Mr. Chair.
CHAIR: Is there anyone else?
MS S. OSBORNE: Fabian referred to the appeals. There is one problem that I have had, I have asked it in the House of Assembly a couple of times before, and I think that the policy remains to be the same. When somebody reports a client who is in contravention - somebody could report that they are working, that they have their boyfriend living there, or whatever - their social assistance cheque is cut off before their appeal is heard, and that could run into two weeks, three weeks, or a month, especially if they are turned down at the first level and then they have to go to appeal. In any of the courts of the land, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. That imposes a lot of hardship on the client. I think there are probably tools in place to get the money back, in terms of claw back and things, afterwards. I am just wondering, have you given any consideration to changing that policy?
MR. SMITH: It is interesting that you raise that particular point, because I had this discussion just a couple of days ago with one of my officials who happens to be here this morning.
MS S. OSBORNE: There is the human side of you coming out. You are from good stock, aren't you?
MR. SMITH: As well, I had some concerns along those lines, but I was advised that, in fact, that is not department policy.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, although it happens.
MR. SMITH: I will ask Wayne to speak to that, Sheila.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay.
The reason I said he is from good stock: we are related.
MR. MANNING: I take back what I said earlier.
MR. PENNEY: Good morning.
In response to your question, I suppose the simplest answer is: once we receive information, we do a full and complete investigation. We look at all the circumstances. Once the decision is made that there is no longer any eligibility for income support, there is no authority to continue to issue that income support.
We have an internal review process and we have, in fact, speeded up the appeals process. If, in fact, the appeals board, upon hearing all of the evidence, agrees that the case was suspended incorrectly, they can, in fact, make the decision to have the payment reinstated retroactive to the date of suspension.
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, but there is a lot of hardship. I can bring to this meeting here a couple of examples. There is a lot of hardship imposed on people. One person in particular, in December there was a girl six months pregnant down on the South West Coast, in Burgeo, I think, and the person who actually worked at the community services office, the social worker, said that in fact she was not living with this person. It is an unfortunate situation because the girl wished she was living with this person and was talking about it through the town, but she actually was not. She was in a lot of hardship. She had been given her notice to move out. It was a really, really difficult situation and her support was cut off until it went to appeal, et cetera. I circumvented it by phoning the minister's office and saying: This cannot be allowed to go on. Check with the community services department down there.
Had she not called in, she would have been out on the street. She had no other family. She came from a dysfunctional family and she just did not have anybody else. I am looking at that how that case has come to me. There has been another three or four that we have had reinstated through the appeals process. In the period from cutoff to the appeals process, when it is determined that actually they are not in violation, that poses an extreme hardship because their cheque is cut until it is heard through the appeals process.
That is a lot of hardship. I do not know how much it would amount to in terms of money expended for the department, but I really think that we should not have our people who are innocent out there living in the extreme hardship that is put on some of them because their cheques are cut off before it gets to the appeal.
What I am saying is: Can't we have them deemed innocent until they are proven guilty at the end of the appeal process? How much would that cost us? In terms of human discomfort, is it worth it?
MR. SMITH: I will respond to that. Obviously, I hear where you are coming from because I have been in that situation and I have dealt with -
MS S. OSBORNE: Actually, there was one out in your district that we discussed as well, Minister, and it did get rectified.
MR. SMITH: Yes, and I agree with you. I think it is something that we need to be very cognizant of. Obviously, every case has to be dealt with on its own merits. I hear what you are saying in terms of we should not be disadvantaging people in the early stages while they are having the opportunity to avail of every recourse there. I guess, from my perspective, I have already asked the question within the department. It is something that I will certainly want to follow up on and see what we can do.
Obviously, I think, in terms of the department, we all can see and recognize that we have a tremendous group of individuals working for the department, both in here and in the front line, offering services to clients. Everybody wants to do the right thing, but sometimes regulations get in there, we get caught up in regulations, and sometimes lose sight of the fact that what we are doing here is really dealing with people. Behind each of these cases there is an actual living, breathing, human being, and trying deal with that.
MS S. OSBORNE: With children.
MR. SMITH: Yes.
Certainly, I hear you. It is an area that I will personally want to take a look at.
MS S. OSBORNE: Thanks.
CHAIR: Is there anyone else with questions?
MR. MANNING: I just have a couple of quick ones, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Minister, if somebody approaches social services for assistance and they have just lost their income, am I correct in saying that it is a ninety-day waiting period before they can avail of assistance?
MR. SMITH: I do not think that is quite accurate, but I would ask somebody who would be more knowledgeable to speak to that. Certainly, again, you have to appreciate that we have to go through a period of time to establish if in fact there is a bona fide need, if the person does in fact qualify; but, no, I do not think it would take - maybe ninety days if they were going to be going on a - I think in terms of an immediate response we should be able to respond much quicker, but I am going to have someone to speak to the specifics of that. Wayne?
MR. PENNEY: Upon application, we look at the applicant's income, or the family income, over the last sixty days. Depending upon their income - the application includes a needs test where we look at their requirements, look at their income. If they have had excess income - if someone worked in an industry where they had a significant income in the last sixty days - their date of eligibility may in fact be deferred out, but that does not happen very often; but, we do look at their income for the last sixty days.
MR. MANNING: Because some people have called my office and said they have been told they have to wait ninety days. I am just wondering, where does that -
MR. PENNEY: Well, there could be an example where someone applied and when we looked at their income over the last sixty days they may not have been eligible for thirty days, or sixty days for that matter, but their income would have to be fairly extensive for that to happen
MR. MANNING: In regard to a fair amount of time - dealing with another department, housing - we end up dealing with a fair amount of social assistance clients who basically come forward looking for housing improvements, or whatever the case may be. Is there a budget within - are there dollars within your department for that, or is it just recommendations that are made from your department to housing to say that this needs to be done or that needs to be done? I have some situations where, as an example, when people reach a certain limit on what they are allowed through housing, and they are short - I will use a figure of $3,000 - and housing will tell us to talk to Human Resources and Employment, and then you are usually sent back to housing. I was just wondering - I cannot find it; maybe it is here and I do not see it - are there dollars in here for that purpose?
MR. SMITH: My understanding is, some years ago a decision was made - you probably would be aware that some years ago housing was all handled by what was the old Department of Social Services. I remember dealing with the department when it had responsibility directly for housing. Some time ago, the decision was made that basically now the housing is all done through the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, and basically their Urgent Repair Program, or the PHRP, the Provincial Housing Repair Program, which are the two programs they deliver.
Basically, the involvement of our front line staff, my understanding right now is that they would certainly assist the client. As a matter of fact, the client is expected to make the requests themselves. I know, just speaking from experience, our front line workers are certainly supportive of clients who are trying to access especially the Urgent Repair Program, and would be prepared to provide written support for them. I have seen that myself. My understanding is there would be nothing within our budget that would speak directly to that. I think we are pretty well - the money would be delivered through housing. The only thing that we would provide right now would be support to clients in helping them to assist repairs through the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.
MR. MANNING: In regard to your Employment Assistance Program for Persons with Disabilities, can you give us some numbers on how many people avail of this program, and whether or not they get to enter the workforce after they partake in this program? What is the level of success there with that?
MR. SMITH: You are asking about numbers, Fabian?
MR. MANNING: Yes.
MR. SMITH: The number of people who would be assisted within the program?
MR. MANNING: Yes, and at the end of the day how many are....
MR. SMITH: Okay.
The breakout that we have here under that - for example, one of the components there out of the total figure that you have there is for training services, which is a figure of $2,135,000. This program serves approximately 290 clients per year. Some of the other programs that are there: for example, we have job trainers. This program provides job trainer services to approximately 300 clients in 2001.
These are some of the figures. As you would know, some of these are ongoing; they are an ongoing need because of the nature of the client that we are dealing with. These are not, for example, unlike the Employment Assistance Program, where we are assisting people who want to get off social assistance and get back into the workforce. In the main, people who avail of this program are people who need ongoing supports from us. We are there basically trying to respond to an identified need within the community to provide supports to these people and to sustain them within the workforce. In most of these cases - and I would say pretty well all of them - these are ongoing commitments. It would be ongoing need to support these people in order for them to remain in the workplace. It would not be a matter of, for example, the earlier program with regard to single parents. That is a program whereby a number of these young women, because of the supports we had provided for them, have at some point in time been able to be dropped from the caseload and look after themselves within the workplace. When you are talking about people with disabilities, this is an ongoing need.
It is interesting, because just last evening I met with the officials within my own district for the Association for Community Living and we were talking about that very issue, and the number of clients that they have on their lists and the people they are sustaining. So, the programs certainly have been extremely successful in terms of integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and into the broader community. One of the beauties of this program as well, I think, from my own perspective, is that it knits in quite nicely with the Strategic Social Plan and the aims of the Strategic Social Plan to try to make our communities inclusive so that we do not have people who are living in isolation, as in the past; because we all know that we have seen far too many instances with people with disabilities who pretty well have been isolated, living by themselves, and have not been included in the community. Well, programs like this have made it possible for these people to become active and productive members of the community. The surprising thing with some of these, we actually have instances - I know in my own district - where some of these people now are operating their own business, who are actually employing people who do not have disabilities; so it certainly has been a very, very successful program.
MR. MANNING: I know in my own area, in Placentia, there is a group called Genesis who deal with this very successfully in regard to delivery of the program. Certainly, from a human side of it again, it creates an opportunity for those people.
Just to clue up, there are many different programs available through your department that I find employers may not be aware of sometimes. I know it is public relations or whatever the case may be, but back a few years ago I remember, even before I came into politics, I walked into the department at the time - I am not sure of the title on the department at that time - there was a package available. It was given to me by a Mr. Johnson, I believe - I am not sure - but each one of the employment programs that were available in the department were in this package. I could take it home, as an employer, sit down and go through it, look at the different programs, look at the people I may want to hire, or my business, whatever way it was, and then I could sit down and say: Okay, this program looks like the program that I could avail of.
I am not aware, and there could be, but is there a package like that available today? Because I get calls from employers wondering what government programs are available, and I try to (inaudible). I know some of your programs have gone over to Youth Services since the creation of the new department; I know that. I am just wondering, under the Department of Human Resources and Employment, is there a package available there?
MR. SMITH: There is information certainly that would be available, and I think you are probably talking about Clayton Johnson. Clayton has had direct involvement with that. Whether there is actually a package that is available - Alison is nodding her head so maybe I will just let Alison speak to that.
MS EARLE: Yes, we have an information package available on all our programs and services. We also have a Web site where people can go, and that also has exactly the same information on it. All our programs are there. If you wanted to have a package, in fact, we can distribute one to everybody. We have made some attempts in the past to circulate the information packages, and that is why we have prepared them, exactly for the kind of reasons that you are saying.
MR. MANNING: Thank you very much.
CHAIR: Is there anybody else with a question?
MS M. HODDER: Minister, before I get into the question, I must say that I am very pleased to see you in this position because, from my experience in working with you over the last six years, I do not know of any member here who is more in touch with the concerns of the people who, through unfortunate circumstances, have to depend on assistance through social assistance.
I just have one question: The merging between health and social services, there was an understanding at the time that there would be no loss of benefit to anyone as a result of the merging of the two departments. In the event that such a case should occur, is there a flexibility to deal with it?
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mary.
As a matter of fact, as would be expected, as a result of the redistribution and realignment of the two departments, it was recognized that there was an ongoing need for close collaboration; so there is still a very close working relationship on certain levels between the Department of Human Resources and Employment and the Department of Health and Community Services, of necessity.
We do collaborate on a number of things. For example, there are things that we fund jointly. We are working quite closely, and it has been driven from the very perspective that you have identified to ensure that, during this period, clients are not disadvantaged in any way because government has made a decision on the administrative end of it.
From my perspective, from what I have seen and from the briefings that I have been given in the short time that I have been with the department, I think it is working very, very well. There is that close level of cooperation and close working relationship between the two departments.
MS M. HODDER: I have identified one case, but we are working it through, so hopefully it is going to work out.
MR. SMITH: Yes.
CHAIR: There being no further questions, I will ask Elizabeth to call the heads.
On motion, subheads 1.1.01. through 4.1.03. carried.
On motion, Department of Human Resources and Employment, total heads, carried.
CHAIR: Thank you very much.
I would like to thank the minister and his Committee for their attendance this morning, and the diligence of the Committee members.
On motion, the Committee adjourned.