A woman dependent on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program said she was struggling to afford face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said that limits where she can go and when and it makes her feel isolated.
A lawyer who is part of Saskatoon’s cross-agency response to COVID-19 said this was the real problem.
Jean Leray has a severe learning disability and Klippel-Feil syndrome, a skeletal disorder, and is unable to work.
She gets a little less than $ 1,200 a month from the SAID program and about $ 260 in rental support. After paying her rent for her groceries, various medications, physical therapy when she can afford it, and medical cannabis without throwing up in bed pain all day, she has a hard time saving money to buy new masks.
“You only have what is $ 1,164 a month to live on and I know some people think that is a lot for someone who is single, but it really isn’t,” she said, speaking via Zoom by Warman, Sask.
She told Global News that she currently only has two masks. The first is a reusable cloth mask that washes them.
The other is a disposable mask that it constantly disinfects rather than throwing it away.
She said her lack of masks, which are mandatory in Saskatchewan, limits her ability to leave home or interact with others.
“I say a lot about home. I was at home a lot before the pandemic, but now I’m just more isolated, “she said.
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Robin Mitchell, operations manager at Crocus Co-operative, a Saskatoon nonprofit that works with and employs people with mental illness, said the feeling of isolation was the bigger problem.
“The isolated person who has no support system is absolutely left behind,” Mitchell told Global News.
He said the SAID program provides a basic income for housing and food and that additional costs could put a greater strain on a recipient’s finances and potentially mental health.
“An extra expense on hand sanitizer, on disposable masks is just something I think to some people they say … I can’t afford that.”
“We worry about everyone’s mental health … the feeling that they can’t afford it or don’t know how to find a mask. That only adds to the fear and anxiety many people are feeling right now.”
He stressed that he believes that getting a mask can be easy. He said about 10 percent of Crocus’ customers were homeless and they had told him they could get one from agencies across town. He also said he saw some customers wearing reusable cloth masks.
However, he believed that many people wear disposable masks longer than they should because they lack access to sustainable care, which would be especially difficult for someone who is isolated.
“I feel like people wear masks a lot longer than they should because they don’t have many masks,” he said.
Ellen McGuire, director of income support at the Department of Social Services, said in a statement that income support staff are available to help.
“Customers are encouraged to contact their employees to ensure that they have full access to all available income support to meet their basic needs. You can also get help developing longer term plans, help with budgeting and money management if needed, ”she said via email.
She also mentioned a one-time benefit the government granted to income support clients earlier this year “in recognition of the additional costs associated with COVID-19.”
This benefit, announced in June, was $ 50.