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Job grant program change may slice support for people with disabilities: group

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HALIFAX - The mother of a Nova Scotia man with Asperger's Syndrome says Ottawa should ensure its new Canada Job Grant doesn't result in the elimination of a program that helped her son find work.

Heather Downey said Wednesday her 25-year-old son Iain was given "the dignity of a job" thanks to a job coach at the Team Work program in Halifax. Ottawa says it's up to the province to keep funding the program.

"The job coaches ... make the difference between whether Iain can work or sit home and play video games," Downey told a news conference organized by the Collaborative Partnership Network, a Nova Scotia umbrella group awaiting word on whether its funding will continue.

The group was told by the provincial government in January that the Canada Job Grant could mean an end to their funding by the end of March.

Eleven job coaches with the Team Work program have been sent notices saying their jobs could end by March 31 depending on the outcome of talks between Ottawa and the provinces on how job training money is spent.

Downey said her son has relied on his job coach's advice on how to look for work and socialize in the workplace. She said she can't understand why Ottawa recently earmarked $10 million for snowmobile and ATV trails in the federal budget when basic social programs appear to be threatened.

"I've no issue with snowmobilers. But this $10 million at today's rate could support Team Works programs for 20 years, and that is a good part of my son's working career," she said.

Janice Ainsworth, co-chairwoman of the Collaborative Partnership Network, said her group relies on money from so-called federal labour market agreements. Without that money, it's likely up to 200 people with varying disabilities will face difficulties keeping their jobs and may end up on provincial welfare rolls, she said.

"We can't afford to take this lightly as we trade in what would be annual program cost of $500,000 for a possible $2 million cost to the province for income supports," said Ainsworth.

The provinces have said they want to keep their existing programs under the labour market agreements, while Ottawa proposed in late December to shift millions of dollars into its employer-directed Canada Job Grant program.

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has since made a new proposal to the provinces and has set Friday as a deadline for a response, though details of that proposal haven't been released.

Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for Kenney, said in an email that under the latest offer Nova Scotia "can keep 100 per cent of the labour market agreement funding for what it wants, including this group."

"The provinces can fund the Canada Job Grant from the source of their choice."

She said Ottawa also provides the province with other transfer payments it could devote to the program for employing people with disabilities.

Provincial Labour Minister Kelly Regan said in an email that she won't comment on the details of talks between Ottawa and the provinces.

But she said the province can't find the money to fund the programs that were funded under the labour market agreements.

"If these programs were to be fully funded we would have to divert the money away from other valuable provincial services or programs," she said. "We can't pick up all of the places where the federal government is divesting themselves of their responsibility."

Ainsworth said her organization's appeal for interim funding from the province has been denied.

Downey said the stakes are high for families like hers as they await word on whether the job coaches can continue.

"Unless you have a child with a challenge that finds a job, you have no idea of the impact that has on the whole family," she said.

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