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Phase 1 Territorial Summary
Productive Choices is part of the NWT Income Support Program. The focus is to encourage recipients to make productive choices from among community opportunities in wellness, learning, training and work experience to gain a greater degree of financial independence. The program provides temporary financial support on a conditional basis. It allows for a targeting of program and service support to specific groups such as youth and it focuses on maintaining individual responsibility. The program began January 1, 1997.
The program has five objectives: to enhance decision-making, accountability and self-reliance of communities and individuals seeking income support; to provide temporary support for individuals until they are able to make productive choices for themselves and their families; to recognize the roles of tradition and culture in people' s lives and the importance of family in the types of income support services offered and the manner in which they are delivered; to assess individuals seeking income support and refer them to community social programs primarily through one community office; and to make better use of resources, including both income support funds and community human resources.
Productive activities can be in the areas of upgrading, career supports, employment, training, harvesting or community work. Wellness activities can be in the areas of alcohol or drug treatment, mental health, family support, medical treatment, aged and handicapped support and community justice. All income support recipients considered employable must participate in Productive Choices. If participants refuse a productive choice or do not follow through on an agreed choice, their benefits are suspended for two months. Any applicant or recipient who is aggrieved by a decision of an officer respecting the granting, refusal, suspension, reduction or amount of social assistance has the right to appeal.
People older than 60 and people with disabilities are not required to participate. Additionally, a productive choice exemption may be introduced for adults with dependants who are experiencing hardship. A person does not have to be in receipt of income support to gain access to a productive choice, but the decision is the community's.
Local flexibility is high. Communities have the authority to design and deliver local social programs, including income support programs, subject to full compliance with legislation and policy requirements. Communities can direct support toward programs that strengthen traditional activities, motivate youth to make productive choices, create jobs, further education and training through expanded child care and incentives, provide healing for communities and ?families and ensure secure income for those most in need. As a general principle, services are offered in accordance with need, but there is an emphasis on youth. Also, the program was designed with aboriginal peoples in mind.
Income support payout in 199697 was $32.823 million about half a million dollars less than the previous year. The total program expenditure, including operating and maintenance costs, was $38.934 million. In 199495, there were 53,298 people receiving social assistance; the caseload has since remained relatively stable.
Information and orientation are provided to participants and the public through the participant's officer, who explains the program's objectives, rules and expectations, and through public advertising. Participants are required to report to their officer on their participation in the activity or program. It is intended that case managers be available to assist individuals with supportive problem-solving, assessment, issuing of benefits and facilitating use of community resources. However, participants' access to staff differs from community to community. Generally, if a community has less than 400 residents, participants may have problems gaining access to information and assistance.
Evaluation is an essential part of Productive Choices. Each community must establish a long-term strategic plan and a results evaluation framework and ensure that an annual audit will be conducted. Every three or four years, longitudinal surveys are conducted to determine who is in the program and to measure the program's impact on participants.
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