Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak condemned the Department of Family Services practice of clawing back winnings from bingo and lotteries from income support, echoing the sentiments expressed earlier in the week by MLA Cathy Towtongie.
“I can attest to the fact that one does not always win, not every time, maybe once a year, at bingo or in the lottery. Nobody is that lucky. In fact it is a pretty rare occurrence,” Akoak said in the legislative assembly on Wednesday. “However, one of my constituents had the good luck to win at bingo. They used the money to pay off all the outstanding bills that had been hanging over them. They felt very relieved until they went to apply for their income assistance, only to find that the recalculated benefits were not even enough to put food on the table.”
He asked Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik to end her department’s reductions of income support if clients use their gambling windfall to pay off bills.
Sheutiapik replied, “We will be reviewing it, but hopefully people will be coming off income support… I also want to remind the House and people looking (on), the services we provide with Family Services hopefully are geared towards temporary, that through income support they will eventually be resilient.”
Akoak reminded her that “there are hardly any jobs available in any small community, very limited jobs, so that’s why we go to income support for help to get food on the table.”
MLA John Main later pointed out that income assistance clients number between 14,000-15,000 in Nunavut, depending on the year.