Parents say recreation pass rules discriminate

NANAIMO – Parents, advocates call for changes to the city's LEAP program criteria to qualify special needs adults living at home.

Nanaimo parents are up in arms over the city’s tougher stance on recreation assistance, pointing out changed criteria have made some special-needs adults ineligible for free passes.

The City of Nanaimo is being asked to rethink criteria for the Leisure Economic Access Policy pass, which helps families in financial need access civic recreation facilities.

Advocates and parents say special needs adults used to be able to show ministry bus passes or a Person with Disabilities slip to become Leap cardholders – a move that gives them discounts and 50 free admissions to civic facilities each year.  But since September, the municipality has asked for the earnings of the entire household, making some low-income adults who live with their parents ineligible for the aid, while peers in group homes or respite care still qualify.

According to city staff members, the Leap program – an average $300,000 annual cost – was meant to ensure  families could access recreation activities and has always been based on financial need. The city is now enforcing it, said Liz Williams, the city’s manager of recreation services, adding some families weren’t submitting family income.

“I would say we haven’t enforced [the family income rule] as well as we could have,” Williams said. “We are just trying to get the program under control, which is where we are at right now.”

But the move is called unfair and discriminatory by parents and advocates who want to see special-needs adults judged on their own ability to pay.

“These are adults. They live at home. They are independent … now we are saying to these adults, everything you do needs to be dependent on your parents’ income. That’s not fair to them,” said Ericka McDonald with Nanaimo Supportive Lifestyles.

Nanaimo parents Debbie Remillard and Teresa Hamilton will both see their children lose access to the program because of their total household income. Remillard’s 29-year-old daughter, Jayme, qualified for the program for 11 years and used the passes to participate in a day program. Now she will have to pay more than $480 for the same access while others continue to receive assistance because they live away from their parents.

Hamilton calls it a fairness issue.

“It seems like if your kids don’t live at home with you, kids with special needs, and you put them in government care they just seem to get more,” she said.

The city’s recreation committee is expected to look into the program criteria in November.

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