Frustrated families have formed an ad hoc group to advocate for people with disabilities, following news that the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion is facing a $420,000 funding shortfall over what they say is bad faith bargaining on behalf of the provincial government.
The group, called All Families First, have family members with intellectual disabilities who get help from BACI, which is now forced to make administration cuts because of the funding confusion. On Monday, members of the newly formed group met with Burnaby New Democrat MLAs Jane Shin, Kathy Corrigan and Raj Chouhan to discuss their concerns.
Maple Ridge resident Wendy Tremblay has a 54-year-old brother-in-law, who has been receiving help from BACI for two decades.
She described news of the funding shortfall as a "slap in the face."
What would happen to all these people is there was no system for them," she said.
Her husband, Dan Tremblay, said the government is taking advantage of people who need the group for support.
"They said certain things at the bargaining table, ... before the election, and now that they are in power, they are reneging," he said.
The funding shortfall appears to be the result of confusion around a contract negotiated by the Community Social Services Employers' Association of B.C. on behalf of BACI in March, as BACI was under the impression that two 1.5 per cent wage increases for their workers would be covered by the provincial government.
"What triggered this is the fact BACI has a new collective agreement effective April 1," said Richard Faucher, one of the association's executive directors. "We were under the impression and were told the funding for this increase and our staff would be covered by government, and it turns out it wasn't."
Now, BACI is faced with the task of cutting costs without impacting services, as per the parameters of the provincial government's cooperative gains mandate, which requires organizations to cut without affecting services to cover wage increases.
But Faucher says there is no more room to cut.
"We're supposed to look at reducing without touching services, which we did, so the families are not angry that services are cut. They are angry that their sons and daughters are not worth the investment of government," he said. "This is not the first time over the past 15 years this has happened. It feels like every so often, when the agenda of the day is to balance the budget, ... they feel like their families are perceived as less-than, in terms of citizenship. ... They are getting fed up."
According to Faucher, BACI had to lay off a manager and combine two positions into one, and the association didn't replace a manager on maternity leave.
"More than half of the cuts have been through administrative savings at the management level. The other half is happening as a result of us doing a redesign of how we provide the services," Faucher said. "The impact on our agency here is our ability to monitor the quality of service. If you cut the support system that's there to monitor, to evaluate, suddenly you have no one left to do that."
The families that spoke to the Burnaby NOW all stressed how BACI has made significant improvements to their loved ones' lives, and how the workers at BACI are even considered family, but they are frustrated by continued cut-backs for organizations that help people with disabilities.
And BACI's not the only group involved; the apparent funding miscommunication could affect groups across B.C.
The NOW contacted the Social Development Ministry for answers and was referred to David Hurford, a spokesperson from Community Living B.C., which is the provincial government's agency that delivers services for adults with developmental disabilities.
According to Hurford, Community Living B.C. is making $4 million in administration cuts, which can go back to groups like BACI, to help them partially offset the funding shortfall resulting from the bargaining confusion.
"All of this is designed to make sure we maintain the frontline service levels to families. We should be seeing no service cuts for families," he said.
Hurford could not speak to the confusion about whether the government even intended to pay for the wage increase, but he said both parties are talking about what happened at the negotiation table.
"If there are families in Burnaby or elsewhere, we want to hear from them, because (cuts to service) should not be happening, and they should be reassured," he said.
When asked how groups can keep making cuts to administration without a trickle-down effect, Hurford said it's not an easy process.
"There's no magic bullet, every organization is very different," he said.
"We're not done yet, the $4-million package we provided to the sector is the first step for us," he said.
The NOW tried contacting the Social Development Ministry again, but we were told the minister was out touring for Community Living Month. According to Gentil Mateus, executive director of Community Social Services Employers' Association of B.C., the government was supportive of the wage increase during negotiations, but after the collective agreement was signed, there was a new budget that came out in the end of June, and the government then announced how it intended to support agencies in meeting their funding obligations.
Social Development Minister Don McRae told the Times Colonist in September that the government never committed to paying the three per cent wage increase for social service workers.
Meanwhile, Burnaby families are going ahead with their new group, All Families First. Anyone interested in getting involved can email email@example.com.
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