The Get Your Benefits! project team consists of
Co-Directors: Drs. Noralou Roos and Sharon Macdonald
Volunteer Researcher: Colleen Metge
Administrator: Eileen Boriskewich
Project Assistant: Ruth Bond
The Manitoba "Get Your Benefits" initiative builds on work undertaken by Dr. Gary Bloch, a family physician in Ontario. Over the last several years, with the support of the Winnipeg Foundation and several government agencies GYB has worked to help organizations in the education and health care sector understand that they have an important contribution to make to help individuals gain access to benefits. A driving force behind this initiative is the big health differences related to poverty across Winnipeg - as demonstrated in the June 2015 Free Press article: Life expectancy in Winnipeg's inner city is 66.7 years compared to 80 - 84 years in the suburbs.
Part of the contribution individuals and agencies can make is in knowing how to access benefits. As a result, there has been a strong interest in the Get Your Benefits booklet we have produced to help family physicians and others point persons in the right direction of where to get benefits (see below for the website). Over 40,000 copies have been distributed through the province of Manitoba's distribution site and through our efforts.
The GYB initiative helps people connect to benefits they are eligible for and encourages low income people to file taxes to access these benefits. In 2015 the Norquay tax filing clinic run by Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) and supported in part by the provincial government, brought back $21 million to low income Manitobans - reflecting largely federal tax refunds and benefits and some provincial credits. The GYB initiative has worked with CFCS and SEED Winnipeg (Supporting Employment & Economic Development) to expand this effort; and, in 2016 $28 million was returned to Manitobans. And there is more to gain. New Brunswick went from 6 to 60-year-round tax filing clinics for low income people; Manitoba has very few and we are working to increase year-round low-income tax filing. We have posters which can be used to help parents find free income tax clinics for those with relatively low incomes.
The GYB initiative has also taken on a new focus: helping children access the federal Canada Learning Bond (CLB) which will help with the ‘education’ determinant of health. In 2014, Manitoba's uptake of the CLB was only 22% -- 91,600 children were losing out on the $2000 federal benefit -- $183 million in incentives for education for low income Manitoba children is going unclaimed and not much has changed since 2014.
Increased income makes a difference: Manitoba’s Healthy Baby Prenatal Benefits Program--maximum payments to low income pregnant women of $81/month--has demonstrated a significantly reduced likelihood of low birth weight births and premature births (Manitoba Centre for Health Policy).
The Get Your Benefits booklet is on the Ministry of Health Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living (MHSAL) and the Manitoba Education and Training (MET) websites. The booklets can also be ordered from the websites and are free of charge.