When Jennifer Eagle, a longtime client of the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) opened her May 2016 payment receipt, there was a notice on the bottom of the page that disturbed her. A new review program would require an AISH worker to visit her home. The notice stated that without the information sought, a client’s benefits “could be suspended or cancelled.”
The new review program was called the Post-Payment Verification and Eligibility Review (PPVER), and was an added layer to the already exiting financial reporting for AISH recipients.
Eagle is a gracious, articulate woman with mental health issues. She has been receiving AISH support for 22 years.
She was concerned that these home visits were mandatory, and that she was in danger of losing her pension if she refused to comply. She felt the program would be an invasion of her privacy.
But she was also confused. According to the job description for a PPVER worker, posted in March on Government of Alberta website, the new eligibility review included home visits for the explicit purpose of “in-depth verification of financial and personal information provided on income support applications, AISH applications, the automated reporting system, and annual reviews.”
Eagle explained that the financial information—including changes in income, her household composition, and address—could all be tracked on individual tax returns.
“You don’t need to threaten people on AISH with suspending or cancelling their benefits if they don’t want home visits,” she says. “This can happen if you do not comply to all sorts of compulsory reporting already.”
When Eagle called the Edmonton AISH office to voice her questions and concerns, the response she received didn’t clarify the issue, she says. Instead, she felt condesended to, and even more confused. She was told she was a good client, and it won’t apply to her. And if a home visit was indeed assigned to her, then she could discuss it further then. But she says she was offered no promise that she could access another form of review.
Eagle felt helpless and frustrated. When she said she planned to go to the press with her concerns, the AISH worker on the phone, Eagle says, “asked what she could do to make me shut up.”
As it turns out, however, the PPVER has already been aborted in the wake of the same concerns over privacy that Eagle expressed.
“The policy was discontinued in early June when the minister became aware of the policy change,” says Aaron Manton, press secretary for the Ministry of Human Services. “This process, and the way it was communicated, was not appropriate. AISH recipients can feel secure knowing their supports are in place, and will be delivered in a personalized way that respects their dignity and privacy.”
But Eagle’s overarching complaint goes beyond this program. She worries that as a disabled person on government support, she is treated as if she is irresponsible and ignorant at best, out to exploit and cheat the system at worst.
Manton says that’s not the case.
“The Government of Alberta is committed to ensuring that Albertans receive the supports they need, when they need them, in the most respectful manner. As such, we will not be proceeding with the post payment verification process for AISH recipients.”