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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Most seniors excluded from benefits; intention was never to assist care providers immediately

In November, the Minister of Family and Human Services, Ms. Tina Mundy, announced the implementation of a new Grandparents and Care Providers program designed to support family members and grandparents who care for their young relatives.

The press release stated that these families would receive a monthly allowance of $700 per child as well as dental and drug coverage.

The news came as a great relief to a large number of grandparents who have provided a safe and secure home for their grandchildren often at great financial stress to themselves.

I recently visited with a group of these amazing people and was told that they didn’t know when the cheques would arrive and didn’t know exactly what drug coverage to expect although one lady had been told to hold off on an orthodontics appointment for her granddaughter until the dental benefits could be clarified.

This Christmas season things promised to be a little easier financially, and everyone looked forward to having a brighter New Year.

On further inquiry I discovered that the merry social services elf had been replaced by the Grinch.

Not only were most of these grandparents excluded from these benefits, but also it had never been the intention to assist these particular grandparents immediately.

Phase 1 of this program, lauded from the beginning by government and media alike, was only intended to benefit those who cared for children who had previously been identified under the Open Child Protection system.

Despite the government press release stating that drug and dental benefits would accompany the monthly payments, children identified under Child Protection already receive these benefits under the Provincial Children’s Health Program and the Provincial Drug program, therefore, no additional services were being added at this stage.

Phase 2 of the program, whatever it may be, is dependent upon grandparents and others who care for their young relatives calling the department at 1-877-341-3101 and registering. In January, I am informed, a member of the Family and Human Services department will return their call and evaluate their needs. The Director of Child Protection Services has stated that Phase 2 of the program will be announced by April 1, 2018.

At the time of writing no further details of allowances or support programs are available.

The government has held two sub-committee hearings on the subject of Grandparents parenting for the second time and all of those committee members are well aware of the financial hardships that a lot of these grandparents’ experience, and some have stated publicly that there wasn’t a dry eye around the table when these seniors told their stories and related the difficulties they have encountered whilst trying to obtain help with housing, guardianship and many other related issues.

Despite this empathy it did not prevent government from announcing a program that initially appeared to support them from Dec. 1, 2017, but it is now unclear as to what they can expect in the future. Many seniors who care for their grandchildren walk a financial tightrope and the Ministry of Family and Human Services is playing emotional bagatelle with people who struggle on so many levels and yet provide safe, loving and stable environment for their grandchildren.

Hardly the Christmas many of these grandparents were expecting.

- Jan King of Simpson Mill Road, Hunter River, is a columnist for Voice for Island Seniors (“Grandparents Corner”) and president, Star of the Sea Seniors Club, North Rustico.

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