A Victory for the Poor is Still Possible At Least in British Columbia

ACORN ACORN International Canada Citizen Wealth Financial Justice Organizing

clawback2 (1)New Orleans        There are no good times to be poor, but these are especially hard times given persistent inequality and distorted public policies that throw a couple of nickels towards lower income families while opening the gateway to millions for those with big money.  All of which makes the ACORN victory in what might have seemed a hopeless campaign in British Columbia all the sweeter.

The issue centered on clawbacks, the inelegant, but totally accurate, term for the government forcing a refund from the poor.  In this case, we are talking about single mothers on benefit support in British Columbia, Canada.  When lightning struck and they received any child support, and throughout the world we know how spotty these collections always are, especially during the recent economic downturn, the government would then clawback an amount of money equal to the child support.  All of which insured that the single mom and her children would be frozen in place without much hope of breaking loose from their circumstances.  The rank injustice of this hard-hearted austerity measure by the Liberal (which means Conservative) government there became a huge and ongoing campaign by ACORN British Columbia over recent years.

Now with almost a billion dollar surplus ACORN’s tireless campaign and constant actions paid off and stopped the clawbacks, although as always it seems a small refund for us. means a bigger giveaway for upper income families.

The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s national newspapers, reported on the victory this way:

After sharp and emotional criticism from advocacy groups such as ACORN B.C. over the past year, some of the province’s poorest parents – single mothers on welfare – will now be able to keep the child-support payments from their former partners starting Sept. 1.   Each month a single parent with one child is eligible for $945 in income assistance or $1,242 in disability payments. Under the old policy, those cheques are reduced by the amount of any child support received by a former partner….The policy change will return about $13-million over the next year to about 5,400 children in 3,200 families, Finance Ministry officials said.  The budget also lets people earn several hundred dollars more before they pay tax on any income more than roughly $19,000.

Vancouver 24 Hours filled in some other blanks in the story quoting Carole James, the opposition critic of the ruling government:

…the NDP applauded government’s elimination of the child support “clawback” that sees amounts deducted if parents also receive income assistance, saying that policy “never should have been there in the first place.”  “The credit for that goes entirely to the families who stepped forward and shared their stories. Some of them are here today, and we thank them for their courage for coming forward,” James said.   ACORN B.C., which has held demonstrations repeatedly to eliminate the clawback, called it a “huge victory.”

Of course the worm in the apple James also pointed out is what the government did with most of the surplus.

Carole James, New Democrat finance critic, said government gave more to the rich and neglected the poor and middle class. “Government put only $5 million towards tax relief for the very lowest earners in British Columbia, but the wealthiest 2% saw an astounding $230 million in a tax break,” she told the legislature.

ACORN won against all odds by keeping the issue front-and-center, and essentially making it too hard for the government to give more to the rich while literally taking food out of the mouths of single mothers and their children.  $13 million to stop the clawbacks, $5 million for low wage workers, and $230 million goes to the richest of the rich in British Columbia, but this is what it takes to win for the poor in these times of expanding inequality, and as every coach – and many an organizer – says, it might not be pretty, but a win is a win, and we’re glad to get it.


Enjoy this live version of Bruce Springsteen singing “Factory”