Welfare challenge cancelled because participants would face starvation

The group that holds Metro Vancouver’s annual welfare food challenge has called it off this year, saying participants would face starvation.

Every fall for the last six years, Raise the Rates has challenged participants, including politicians, celebrities and chefs, to live on provincial welfare rates for one week. In 2017, after subtracting rent and other basics like bus fare, that meant $19.

But with recent rent increases, participants this year would would have only $5.75 to spend on food for the week.

“This year we can’t possibly ask someone to voluntarily live on $5.75 a week for food,” organizer Kell Gerlings said at a press conference announcing the 2018 challenge.

The average rate for a single room occupancy (SRO) unit has jumped to about $687 per month from $548, Gerlings explained, cancelling out the $100 welfare rate increase implemented in 2017 after the NDP took office. When you subtract $687 from the typical welfare rate of $710 a month, only $23 remains to pay for food for the entire month. Divided by four, that’s $5.75 a week.

Raise the Rates is calling for rent controls to stop landlords from raising rents between tenancies, as well as increases to income assistance.

Earlier this week, NDP MLA Mable Elmore said she would refund $244 in food expense money she claimed while participating in last year’s welfare food challenge.

The Opposition Liberals released expense documents Wednesday that showed Elmore received a meal subsidy of $61 a day for four days while she was in Victoria as the legislature was in session.

Elmore said neither she nor members of her staff noticed she received the meal expenses during the challenge last November.

“I didn’t catch it,” she said after the Liberals grilled her over the expenses during question period. “In the spirit of the welfare challenge, I’ve decided to pay back the per diems for that week.”

Elmore said she lived on boiled eggs, old fruit and homemade bean casserole for the week.

With files by The Canadian Press

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