Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clampdown would cut welfare payments

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Welfare recipients who have an outstanding arrest warrant should fess up.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Friday the province will stop, reduce or deny benefits to people with outstanding warrants for serious crimes.

The new measure is part of a wider effort to cut down on the high number of outstanding warrants. It was first announced more than a year ago when the province rolled out funding to create a new squad to pursue high-risk fugitives with outstanding warrants.

The province funds 72 positions for the joint Winnipeg Police Service-RCMP warrant enforcement unit. As of Oct. 17, 729 arrests had been made.

Conservative justice critic Reg Helwer questioned why it's taken so long for the warrant squad to identify those on income assistance.

"What took them so long to use this tool?" he said. "It's obviously something they felt wasn't important enough to get moving on."

Swan said the stumbling block was streamlining police access to information in government databases to track individuals with outstanding warrants.

"We wanted to line everything up so that we now have a rigorous and comprehensive way of seeing whether there's outstanding warrants for serious offences," he said.

Swan said people who apply for or already get income assistance will be required to deal with outstanding warrants under the Criminal Code to prevent benefits from being cut off.

Provisions are in place to minimize the impact on family members. If two or more people are in the household, there will be no cut to basic benefits for rent, utilities and health care.

Eligibility for welfare would be reinstated once a person confirms outstanding warrants have been cleared up.

 

-- Bruce Owen

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A7

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