Alberta’s human services minister said Tuesday that agencies offering services for the disabled may have some breathing room as a plan to revamp programming continues to draw fire from the public.
Public meetings in recent weeks have attracted hundreds of people upset about the government’s plans to slash $42 million from the Persons with Developmental Disabilities programs.
During a meeting with the Herald editorial board, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said cuts to PDD’s community access program won’t reach $42 million as stated in the 2013-14 provincial budget.
“We’re not going to hit $42 million, there’s no question about that,” said Hancock.
The veteran Tory minister also said contracts with service providers would not end on June 30. Instead, service providers will likely be offered contract extensions to Sept. 1 as discussions continue with the government, Hancock said.
“What we want to do is to keep people at the table with the discussions,” he said. “We’re not going to issue a contract that says we can do this year the same as we did last year.”
Overall, the PDD budget received a slight increase to $694 million from $688 million over the previous year.
But the government shuffled a portion of the money from the community access program to staff raises as previously promised by the premier.
Hancock acknowledged that the government’s handling of cuts to the program has been poorly communicated.
“It wasn’t our intention to scare the hell out of anybody,” said Hancock. “It was our intention that people were already on this pathway and understood the change much better than it appears they did.”
The government has hosted a series of public meetings in recent weeks to address the issue, including a botched meeting at the Bowness Legion in Calgary.
That meeting got off to a rough start when several people with disabilities were prevented from attending the session due to a lack of wheelchair access to the second floor in the Legion.
“They understand this is a contentious issue, they understand that people are worried and concerned,” said Liberal critic Kent Hehr, who is wheelchair bound.
“Yet with all the resources in the ministry, they can’t figure out whether a place is going to be wheelchair accessible or not,” Hehr said. “It just piles on to the screw-up of this file.”