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Minister surprised when she heard bingo winnings deducted from income assistance

Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik admitted that she was surprised when she first heard that income assistance clients received fewer dollars from the territorial government if they won at bingo or other lotteries.

Minister of Family Services Elisapee Sheutiapik says income assistance legislation is being reviewed, including to determine whether bingo and other lottery winnings will no longer be clawed back.
photo courtesy Michel Albert/Legislative Assembly

“It is being reviewed to see if we can change that,” Sheutiapik said in the legislative assembly on Monday while under questioning from Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie.

Towtongie said she learned of an instance where someone had income assistance reduced due to a $40 bingo prize.

“In Nunavut $40 cannot buy anything. Maybe it can buy a bit of pampers and toilet paper. That’s about it,” she said. “I find it very disheartening that income assistance clients have their benefits reduced simply because they have had the good luck to win at bingo or in a lottery… We all need hope and a bingo win is a sign that good things can happen and it can help them buy big items. We should be able to enjoy our windfall instead of receiving it with one hand and then having money taken out of the other hand.”

Towtongie repeatedly asked Sheutiapik to ensure bingo and lottery winnings are no longer deducted from income assistance.

Sheutiapik replied, “It’s not easy to change legislation. Policy would have been one thing, but it’s in the legislation… I can’t just arbitrarily give direction to staff to stop doing something. The legislation itself has to be changed. My goodness, if I started running my department or our government on just giving direction and put aside legislation, we wouldn’t be running properly. I have already given direction to my staff to look at amending the legislation.”