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'We cannot survive': Disability advocates call on N.B. government for help


Shelley Petit says she’s getting emails every day from people with disabilities across New Brunswick, sharing their daily struggles with what it’s like trying to live off their disability benefits.

Sometimes, she has difficulty opening them, knowing there’s someone in need on the other side — and she doesn’t have a way to immediately help.

“We couldn’t survive before, we cannot survive now. We have people that are eating one piece of bread a day,” she said.

Petit is the chair of the N.B. Coalition of Persons with Disabilities (NBCPD), and lately, she feels her advocacy work has become even more urgent. Between the increased costs for fuel, food, and rent those living off disability benefits are struggling to keep up.

Extended disability benefits increased from $805 to $832 a month on April 1 — not enough to compete with rising costs, Petit says.

And not everyone receives the extended benefits, most receive $726 a month.

“I don’t care who steps up to the plate, but step up today because we have people who are starving to death,” she said in an interview with CTV Atlantic.

“What’s happening is those who are finding food, they’re eating from food banks or eating really poor nutrition, overly preserved foods which are very inexpensive and are not good for our health and our health conditions."

The province has taken some action, like allowing someone receiving benefits to live with a roommate — but Petit says more needs to be done.

She also lives with a disability, and while she receives benefits from her employer, she spent almost a year without it — living off the government disability benefit.

“If it had not been for the generosity of friends and family, I would have been homeless. I have a teaching degree, a master’s degree and I would have been homeless.”

Premier Blaine Higgs told CTV Atlantic Friday that his government has been looking at options for “targeted support” in response to the rising cost of living. He said he’s aiming to release something this coming week.

“We need to find a path here, at least a temporary program that will kind of take the shock out of the system,” he said.

“We want it to be quick. In other words, we don’t want something that takes a long time to roll out. We want it to hit those most vulnerable so it is really getting to families that are being impacted the most.”

He wouldn’t give specifics, but the NBCPD wants its members included.

Higgs did meet with the group last month to discuss some of the issues they’re facing.

Murielle Pitre, the organization’s communications director, said she did feel he was compassionate about their situation.

“’How do you live on that amount of money?’ We asked him. And he said, ‘I don’t know.’” she said.

Pitre lives with spina bifida and severe scoliosis and says for many people, it’s difficult to access services in person, like a food bank.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for those people we know who are not well right now,” she said.

Sunday also marks the beginning of Disability Awareness Week – and more than ever, the organization says the public needs to be aware of what people with disabilities are going through during this current economic climate.

They’re hoping decision-makers don’t forget.

“We know what you’ve done, or more importantly what you have not done. We need you to listen to us and we are the experts on the conditions and what we need. And we need them to work with us,” said Petit. Top Stories

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