A smiling man wearing a suit stands in front of a microphone.
Social Development Minister Paul Pike says expanding the employment stability pilot program will help more people who receive income support stay in the workforce and retain more of their earnings. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is increasing payments to people who receive income support and are re-entering the workforce, and expanding the pilot project from the St. John’s area to include the rest of the province.

Social Development Minister Paul Pike said around 170 people are participating in the pilot, which began in January, and about 40 of them no longer need income support.

“That’s a measurement, a true measurement of the success of this program,” Pike said Thursday.

“We’re going to be expanding it, you know, as fast as we can throughout the whole province. Because we’ve found something that’s actually working, and we don’t want to stop.”

In January, the provincial Department of Social Development introduced the employment stability pilot program, which aims to help people who receive income support and are starting or continuing a job to keep more of their earnings.

Under the expanded pilot, participants who begin a new job or continue working will get a government payment of $250 after six months, $500 after a year and $1,000 after two years.

The pilot also includes a new earnings exemption formula, which Pike says will allow people to retain more of their earnings.

“People in receipt of income support throughout the province to begin a new job or continue to work can keep more of their earnings and immediately experience increased financial supports and benefits from working, which is what we wanted in the first place,” he said.

The province is also upping its job start allowance from $125 to $250, which Pike said will help people buy things like gear or clothing they need to start a new job.

A collage of two photos, one of a smiling man and one of a smiling woman.
Stella’s Circle CEO Laura Winters, left, and Choices for Youth executive director Sheldon Pollett say Thursday’s announcement will help more people access employment. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

The pilot project is being delivered through a collaboration among the provincial government and St. John’s charitable organizations Stella’s Circle and Choices for Youth.

Sheldon Pollett, the executive director of Choices for Youth, says the program is a creative way to help people transition into employment without fear of being financially worse off after losing income support.

“If someone’s son came to us and said, ‘Look, I’m on income support and I need help, but I’m worried about if I go to work I lose more than I gain’ — well, then, this changes that,” said Pollett, who has worked with some of the youths involved in the pilot.

“That is the big game-changer. People don’t have to face that difficult choice of, ‘I want to go to work, I’m ready to go to work, but there’s too much of a financial cliff.'”

Stella’s Circle CEO Laura Winters applauded the program, saying it has the ability to make systemic change.

“We can do all the work we want on the front line, it’s when systems can shift and change to meet people’s needs that we see the big results,” she said.

Pike said the province isn’t done with addressing income support, highlighting an all-party committee in place looking at basic income and an independent evaluation of the pilot to inform further changes to the income support program.

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