Community Services Denies Assistance to Disabled Student in Need

HALIFAX–On Tuesday, September 25, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service received a decision from the Department of Community Services denying Ms. Melissa Myers, of the Head of Jeddore, income assistance while studying in the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Program at Dalhousie.

“I am being punished by the system for trying to further my education,” said Ms. Myers, “If I was to drop out of school tomorrow, I would apparently be eligible for assistance, but because I am continuing my studies, Community Services is forcing me to go without.”

Ms. Myers, 23, is a disabled woman living with cerebral palsy who dreams of someday becoming a social worker. The Department of Community Services supported her during her Bachelor of Arts degree but her income assistance was cut-off when she enrolled in the BSW program at Dalhousie University.

(I think a quote relating a social work degree and melissa’s disability here would be good) says Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard, Director of the Dalhousie School of Social Work.

Since August 2006, Ms. Myers has lived with no income, depending exclusively on what support her parents can offer to cover her living expenses.

“The law does not in any way exclude Melissa’s eligibility for income assistance,” says Cole Webber, Ms. Myer’s advocate with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, “Still, the Department’s stance is that Melissa is not entitled to an income. We find that position to be unacceptable. Provincial legislation obligates the Minister to provide assistance to those in need.”

At the beginning of October, Mr. Webber wrote Community Services Minister, Judy Streatch on Ms. Myers’ behalf, requesting she be given the opportunity to meet with the Minister. Neither Ms. Myers nor Mr. Webber have heard back from the Minister’s office.

According to the Department of Education the average student requires $14,000 to attend university for one year. The maximum student loan a Nova Scotia student can receive is just over $12,000. Students with disabilities, who require much more supports, have a much higher cost of living, leaving these students with a significant income deficit when attending university. (I just wanted to give context to my quote)

“With high tuition fees and a lack of comprehensive needs-based grants in Nova Scotia, high-need students, such as students with disabilities and single-parent students, have nowhere to turn but social assistance,” says Kaley Kennedy, Nova Scotia representative for the Canadian Federation of Students, “In denying high-need students access to assistance, Community Services is saying quite clearly that students with the highest need do not have a right to the post-secondary education they deserve.”

Ms. Myers is adamant that the Department of Community Services stop denying those in need an income simply because they choose to pursue an education that in the long run will ensure their financial independence from the Department.

“I am not just doing this for myself, but also for others who may be in similar situations.” concluded Ms. Myers, “My hope is that other people will not have to go through the same struggle that I have.”

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