Please click on one of the images below (check the message at the bottom left of the browser)...
Phase 2 Territorial Update
Click twice anywhere on page (except a link) to return to top
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 peoples 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 may 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 60 and over and people with disabilities are not required to participate in Productive Choices. Additionally, a productive choice exemption may be introduced for adults with dependants who are experiencing hardship.
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. Also, the program was designed with aboriginal peoples in mind.
Income support payout in 2000-01 was about $12.9 million. O and M costs were approximately $1.2 million.
Information and orientation are provided to participants and the Income Assistance Officer, who explains the programs objectives, rules and expectations. 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.
Productive Choices is part of the NWT Income Support Program and is mandatory for all income support recipients considered employable. 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 and personal independence.
The program provides temporary financial support on a conditional basis. It focuses on maintaining individual responsibility.
The program includes
- conditional access
- community delivery
- a case management model
- basic benefits for transitional recipients
- a requirement to exit the program if the individual is not participating in a productive opportunity
- increased benefits to elderly people and those with disabilities
- maximums placed on shelter costs for single people
- maximums placed on furniture purchases
- integration of day-care user subsidies under the Income Support Division
- income exemption of $300 monthly for families and $150 monthly for single people
Productive Choices has the following goals:
- reduce the social assistance caseload
- reduce the overall costs of social assistance
- get people off social assistance
- help social assistance recipients find employment. The program is based on the assumption that residents wish to be employed and that most will do what they can to become independent from income support programs, if given meaningful opportunities.
- develop the short-term work skills of program participants
- develop the long-term work skills of program participants
- make employment more attractive financially than social assistance
- promote lasting connections to the labour market
- reduce the rate at which people leave employment and return to social assistance
- reduce long-term dependence on social assistance. Forty per cent of income support recipients receive income assistance for less than two months.
- reduce poverty
- contribute to job creation
- promote economic and social development
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 peoples 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
- to make better use of resources, including both income support funds and community human resources
Relatively few work opportunities exist in the NWT, and it is difficult to provide income support benefits without creating disincentives to work. The combination of relatively high benefit levels, limited employment opportunities and a narrow benefit-wage differential leaves few compensatory options. Simply, there are few incentives for recipients to want to exit the program.
Productive Choices is based on the assumption that residents wish to be employed and that most will do what they can to become independent from income support programs if given meaningful opportunities to do so. The focus of the program is to provide residents with supports to attain their presumed financial independence objective. While employment is the main productive choice, some communities offer other choices due to the lack of employment opportunities. The relative importance of employment as the main productive choice is directly related to the number of employment opportunities available in a community.
In 1991, the NWT Special Committee on Health and Social Services was created to report on the adequacy and management of income support benefits. People told the Committee that the income support system was tough to get into and even tougher to escape. They said that every step should be taken to encourage pride, a desire to work and a sense of initiative in people who receive income support.
In July 1994, the NWT government published the report Creating Choices: Solving the Income Support Puzzle. The report talked about the need to shift the focus of income support toward more community responsibility and choice and to redefine the governments role in income support. The following year, the Social Assistance Program was transferred from Health and Social Services to Education, Culture and Employment to link the financial support of people in need to education and training programs. To reflect the change in approach, the name of the program was changed from Social Assistance to Income Support.
The demise of the CAP Act and the introduction of the Canada Health and Social Transfer created a new opportunity for income support reform in the NWT, because most of the former programming restrictions were eliminated.
In January 1995, a Ministers forum held discussions with community representatives across the NWT. Consistently, people said that change was needed and emphasized the following directions:
- community control
- improved coordination and integration of services
- expanded role for tradition and culture
- more youth services and programs
- better security for those who cannot provide for themselves
Pilot projects in five test sites were implemented to test community delivery models and to explore the availability of resources at the community level. These pilots were intended to enhance service by improving the link to training and education opportunities, increasing community initiatives for employable social assistance recipients and since social assistance was transferred from Health and Social Services allowing Health and Social Service workers more time to focus on family support while encouraging community empowerment and decision-making.
An evaluation report published in February 1996 indicated that the pilots had been unsuccessful. Systems and programs in communities were like stovepipes: there was no integration, a necessity if communities are to have a range of productive choices to offer. The pilots did show that the key to community integration is the front-line worker, who is normally the person assessing the needs of the individuals seeking income support. The front-line worker must understand the purpose of the program and must have the basic training to determine the needs of the whole individual, including eligibility for financial support, need for social or health-related treatment or intervention (wellness activities), ability to work and need for training or education opportunities (productive activities). When the front-line worker takes on this expanded role, the program changes from one that passively administers social assistance benefits to one that actively addresses the causes of poverty.
The overall purpose of the program is to enable people to make productive choices according to their health, abilities and efforts from among work (wage and land-based), community healing, education, and training opportunities.
The following are types of productive choices clients can choose from:
- adult basic education/literacy training
- life skills training, including counselling on the stresses involved in balancing employment or school with family life and conflicts
- parenting classes
- counselling on
- family violence
- substance abuse
- job preparation
- sexual abuse
- high-school completion
- post-secondary education (income support recipients are entitled to student financial assistance)
- job-readiness training
- counselling (e.g., pre-trades and pre-apprenticeship training)
- job search training
- career planning (through certification courses, staff are being trained in career counselling)
- job referrals
- workplace-based training (on-the-job training). Assistance is also provided for work- related costs and tuition for work-related courses.
- paid work experience (see above)
- Eonomic Development, is modelled after the self-employment component under Employment Insurance, whereby loans of up to $5000 are available for business start-up.
- community service
- Through the NWTs Community Skills for Work, income support recipients are given an additional $10 daily for working in community projects or activities, as identified by the community. The current budget for this program is $2 million per year.
- job-finding assistance, such as identifying job openings, marketing participants to employers and arranging interviews for participants. Although theoretically available across the NWT, this service exists only in the major centres.
Applicants for income support meet with a program officer who follows a three-step assessment process:
- Discuss possible activities and programs available in the applicants community:
- wage employment
- unpaid employment in traditional activities
- education or training
- parenting or care of adult family members
- counselling or treatment
- community service
- Determine the activities and programs that the applicant is capable of participating in.
- Recommend to the applicant one or more activities or programs in the applicants community in which the applicant must participate.
During the first two months, income support recipients receive food, shelter and utilities only. If still in receipt of assistance after two months, the recipient must make a productive choice, after which enhanced benefits are available such as clothing, education, furniture, emergency, day-care and income exemptions. If participants refuse a productive choice or do not follow through on an agreed choice, their benefits are suspended for two months.
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 with the exception of those 60 and older and people with disabilities must make productive choices. A person does not have to be in receipt of income support to gain access to a productive choice. An annual per-capita budget is provided to every community to fund the wellness activities of their choice, but these components have not yet been well developed.
Training and Educational Activities
The very high number of secondary school dropouts is a major challenge for the NWT. Much of the skill-focused training available through the Employment Insurance Program is targeted toward adults.
Private sector, public sector and non-profit employers participate in the programs employment-based activities. Although the NWT has already had considerable experience with employment agreements for Northerners, employers have not been consistently satisfied with the quality of work performance.
Employment and training are important parts of Productive Choices because most recipients, in light of their education and skill levels, are eligible for entry-level jobs at best. Thus, an emphasis on employment would only promote the ghettoization of income support recipients.
Program Design and Implementation
Responsibility for Design
The territorial department of Education, Culture and Employment is responsible for designing the program. Communities have the authority to design and deliver many local social programs, but the delivery of income support programs is subject to legislation and policy requirements. Annual service funding agreements (contracts) can be signed with communities which wish to deliver income support programs.
Responsibility for Implementation
Local communities are responsible for the implementation and administration of the program.
Further to the terms of the funding agreements, community programming meets the following criteria:
- All pertinent legislation, regulations and policies are complied with (especially in benefits, specification of differential rates and criteria for eligibility).
- Community policies and territorial and community appeal processes for individual entitlements are defined.
- Procedures are in place to ensure confidentiality of recipient information.
Local Flexibility in Program Design and Implementation
Because of their flexibility in designing and delivering locally appropriate programs, 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.
Duration of the Program
Productive Choices began January 1, 1997, and is ongoing. Participants must leave the program if they have not made a productive choice.
Funding and Program Costs
Type and Amount of Financial Assistance for Participants
Financial assistance is provided to participants on the basis of their eligibility for general social assistance. The following assistance is provided:
- $10 per day supplement to participants who work on community-approved projects through Investing in People , transportation, special clothing, equipment and supplies and health coverage.
- exemption of a portion of employment earnings from benefit reduction. The income exemption is $300 monthly for families and $150 for singles.
- compensation for child-care expenses
- transportation subsidies.
- housing subsidies for rental, purchase or repairs. An allowance may be provided for the actual cost of rental accommodation to a maximum local rate approved by the Director. When participants own their own home, a monthly allowance sufficient to cover current taxes, fire insurance and other assessments may be paid, but the total allowance will not exceed the rental allowance that would otherwise be provided.
- assistance for people with disabilities. People older than 60 or clients with a disability receive an additional $175 monthly.
In addition, the NWT provides premium-free health care to all residents. All aboriginal people, including MÈtis and non-status Indians, are entitled to free dental care and eye care regardless of their eligibility for income support.
Deadlines and Subsidies
Program participants do not lose access to supplements or subsidies if program deadlines are not met.
There is no claw-back from money received from land claim settlements or from hunting, trapping or fishing for subsistence purposes.
Financial Incentives for Employers
Under another program, private-sector and public-sector employers offering on-the-job training can receive up to $5 per hour in wage subsidies for up to 52 weeks, and must pay the employee that $5 plus at least 90% of minimum wage; as a result, participants receive more than $11 an hour.
Income assistance costs have almost quadrupled in 10 years, from $9 million in 1984 to $34 million in 1994. Since 1991, expenditures have increased by 41%.
Income support payout in 1996-97 was $32.823 million ñ about half a million dollars less than the previous year. The total program expenditure, including operating and maintenance costs, was $38.934 million.
When program responsibility was transferred from Health and Social Services, about 100 social workers were freed. The new department, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, hired 26 workers to administer the program.
Contract funding to communities delivering Income Support began in July 1997.
Subsidized Child Care
Productive Choice participants are eligible for child-care expenses, and communities may choose to expand child-care programs. Day-care user subsidies and the day-care allowance have been integrated under Income Support.
New child care spaces are being created through the Brighter Futures Program. The likelihood of eliminating child care subsidies is remote given the NWTs emphasis on early childhood development.
In order to remain on assistance, income support recipients, with the exception of those 60 years of age and older and those with disabilities, must participate in Productive Choices. Those 60 years of age and older and those with disabilities have the option of participation in Productive Choices.
Eligible disabled and aged clients receive financial support for basic living needs plus an additional allowance.
Although, as a general principle, services are offered in accordance with need, there is an emphasis on youth in the NWT. The NWTs youth strategy has three main components:
- summer employment
- staying-in-school activities
- training initiatives
Youth educational support reflects the assumption that the best long-term employment support consists of education and training for people 21 years of age or under. Financial benefits are available for young people interested in developing skills either in school or on the job.
Seven percent of people in the NWT receive income support during the year.
Thirty percent are 25 years old or younger.
The following types of information about participants are gathered:
- education and training history
- employment history
- child care needs and use
- length of time in receipt of social assistance
The following provides an interesting perspective on the NWT income support caseload:
- 7 percent of people in the NWT receive income support during the year
- 50 percent are 25 years old or younger
Nature of Participation
Participation in Productive Choices is mandatory for income support recipients. A program officer consults with recipients or applicants to determine when they are to begin participation in any activity or program and how long their participation should last.
If participants refuse a productive choice or do not follow through on an agreed choice, their benefits are suspended for two months.
An applicant must participate in the activities and programs recommended by the officer unless
a person in a health care profession approved by the Director, an occupational therapist or a medical practitioner certifies that the applicant is not capable of participating in the activity or program for a period of at least 12 months.
the applicant has attained the age of 60 years.
Additionally, a productive choice exemption may be introduced for adults with one dependent under three or two under six.
Participants make productive choices that meet their needs and are available in their community. If the community is unable to provide certain services as stipulated by the program (e.g., child care), or if a service associated with a particular productive choice is unavailable, income support benefits will be maintained until services are available.
Orientation and Follow-up
Information and orientation are provided to participants and the public in two ways:
- through the participants officer, who explains the programs objectives, rules and expectations
- through public advertising
Participants are required to report to their officer on their participation in the activity or program. During this monitoring, officers may change their recommendation about an activity or program. Officers are required to review their recommendation on the request of the applicant.
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 due to staffing and program limitations.
Social assistance appeal committees are established by the Commissioner of the NWT. Any municipal council or settlement council may petition the Commissioner to establish an appeal committee for its community.
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. An appeal can also be made about the individuals participation in Productive Choices.
Every applicant is advised in writing of the right to appeal and is provided with clear instructions on appeal procedures. Within 30 days after receiving notification that an applicant requests an appeal, the chairperson of the appeal board/committee holds a meeting of the committee and issues a written ruling.
The Appeal Committee, after the hearing, may make one of three decisions:
- dismiss the appeal
- direct that assistance be denied, discontinued, reduced or recovered
- direct that assistance in an amount stated in the order be provided
In addition, the Appeal Committee may issue such other order as may be necessary to resolve the appeal. Basic assistance is granted while an appeal is made and heard.
The Director recommends people to the Commissioner for appointment to the Social Assistance Appeal Board, the next level of appeal. No official of the Department of Education, Culture and Employment in the public service of the NWT is eligible. An appointment to the Appeal Board has effect for two years.
Program Design Considerations
The unemployment rate in the NWT is the highest in the country, and competition for available jobs is intense. The government actively supports the hiring of local residents over the importing of skilled southern labour, but the number of NWT jobs paying enough to cover the costs of living is limited.
It is difficult for a family wage-earner in the NWT to earn sufficient income for the family to remain financially independent. The labour market is becoming increasingly service-sector oriented, and many new jobs are poorly paid. They are often part-time, do not provide benefit packages and come with limited security. The NWT minimum wage does not adequately cover minimum costs of living for families, although it may have significant application for singles, especially youth, and some people working in the hospitality industry, where minimum wages are supplemented by commissions or tips. Despite the high cost of living in the NWT, the minimum wage, an average of $6.25 an hour, is not correspondingly higher than those in other jurisdictions; in fact, it is lower than those of British Columbia and Ontario. The NWT minimum was last reviewed in 1991.
Thus, most unskilled wage jobs pay less than what the family can receive through income support. This potential disincentive for a growing number of "working poor" people who would prefer wage employment is particularly strong for earners who have large families. There is a heavy dependence on income support programs as a source of alternative income, most notably during the long winter months; this dependence can demoralize Income Support recipients.
Job growth cannot be expected in most communities. The geographic location, harshness of the NWT climate and cost of creating wage jobs present significant constraints to economic activity and stable labour market growth, constraints that other jurisdictions do not face. Although the government provides considerable direct and indirect government subsidy assistance for new businesses, the NWT does not possess the financial resources to compete well with southern jurisdictions. The most promising new employment opportunities appear to be in the developing mining industry.
Employment Equity, Targetting and Displacement
Services offered and delivered are based on individual need; gender is not considered.
In light of labour market conditions, displacement of workers already holding paid jobs in the local economy is a non-issue.
The integration of training, employment and income support programs is a cornerstone of welfare reform in the NWT.
significant advantage could accrue from increased federal and territorial collaboration if existing co-location (or co-housing) of federal HRDC services and staff with territorial social and employment services and staff in three communities can be expanded, so that collaborative problem-solving can better occur with local communities.
The flexibility of the Productive Choices program allows communities to direct support according to their specific needs and situations.
The program was designed with aboriginal peoples in mind, because the majority of NWT residents are aboriginal and a disproportionate number of them are in receipt of income support benefits. Over 90% of income support recipients in the NWT are aboriginal people. Regulations on harvesting and the emphasis on healing activities are examples of program aspects relating to this culture.
Of priority concern are youth and male adults. The three-pronged youth strategy is described above (see "Eligibility Criteria").
Data are being collected to track the following outcomes:
- the number of participants who leave social assistance
- the number of participants who get jobs
- the extent to which participants who leave social assistance for employment return to welfare
- the extent to which teenage parents complete high school and get jobs
Labour Market Development Agreement
The Canada-Northwest Territories Labour Market Agreement (LMDA), signed February 27, 1998, came into effect October 1, 1998. Under the Agreement the Northwest Territories assumed responsibility for labour market development. On October 1, 1998 the Territorial Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) began delivery of the employment programs and services described as active employment measures under the Employment Insurance legislation.
The Canada-NWT Labour Market Agreement is fully devolved.
In the NWT, many "working poor" families are worse off financially than many people in receipt of income support benefits, because recipients are provided with assistance not available to the working poor. The most significant benefit differential relates to housing, because the housing cost outlay of the working poor is a much higher percentage of income than it is for the income support recipient. Thus, income support programs can be highly attractive to the working poor.
Working poor who are aboriginal do not loose their dental and eye care benefits and prescription drugs.
Planned Changes and Directions
In 2000-01 Income Assistance expenditures and caseloads declined by 13% in the NWT, as a result of a combination of factors:
- employment and training opportunities in the diamond mining, valuation, cutting, polishing and oil and gas industries
- a new computer system that provides fewer opportunities for Officer discretion
- automated cheque processing
- more frequent and intensive Income Assistance Officer training, and
- the maturity of the productive choices of the Income Assistance program.
The concentration is now on improving client service, by offering orientation session for new clients, more focussed case management, improving linkages with both government and non-government resources in the communities, examining the needs of the long term clients and establishing an audit and investigations unit. Interest has also been expressed in increasing rates and amending legislation to reflect the changing environment.
TITLE: Manager, Income Support
Department of Education, Culture and Employment
Income Support Programs
Government of the Northwest Territories
P.O. Box 1320
E-MAIL: email@example.com TELEPHONE: (867) 873-7746 FAX: (867) 873-0443 WEBSITE: http://income.learnnet.nt.ca/