City launches new recreation assistance program

The Financial Assistance and Inclusion for Residents (FAIR Play) program will come into effect on March 1, 2024

The City of Burnaby recently approved and launched its new and updated recreation assistance program, which aims to help low-income residents access the city’s parks, recreation, and cultural facilities. The city’s current recreation assistance program offers a $250 annual recreation credit per person. However, an annual pass for all drop-in recreational activities, known as a Be Active Pass, ranges from $210.24 for a child and $421.92 for an adult. Annual passes provide unlimited access to drop-in activities, including swimming, aquafit, gym, group fitness, yoga, pilates, squash, and table tennis.

According to Rebecca Thandi, director of strategic initiatives with the city, the new policy is part of a general overhaul of city policies to ensure equitable access to Burnaby’s facilities and programs. “It’s just one of the barriers,” Thandi told the Beacon. “I’ll be doing a full review of what we refer to as the city’s safety net programs.” 

Edmonds Community Centre. Photo: City of Burnaby

The present program provides $250 in annual recreation credit; however, according to a report prepared by Thandi and Robin Juergensen, manager of recreation services, which was submitted to the council last December, “The credit amount of $250 is arbitrary and is not enough to cover the cost of an annual pass.” The report also describes the process of proving income and personal tax information as “demeaning,” adding that “some people living in poverty are also managing health or social issues that prevent them from completing their taxes.” 

To overcome this barrier, Thandi said the new program will waive the requirements for filling out an application form and providing tax and income information for people accessing other social services in the city with community partners such as Burnaby Neighbourhood House (BNH) and others. 

According to the current program, eligibility criteria is determined according to the government’s Low Income Cut-Offs (LICO). Based on LICO, a resident must make less than $29,380 annually to be eligible for recreation credit. However, with increased inflation and living costs, the current living wage for the Lower Mainland is $25.68, which comes to about $50,000 annually. 

According to Thandi, the City of Vancouver recently changed the eligibility criteria for its recreation assistance program. Vancouver residents earning less than 50% of the median household income would be eligible for assistance. With the FAIR Play program, Burnaby will adopt the same eligibility criteria. According to the 2020 census data, the median income in Burnaby is $83,000; 50% would be $41,000. Residents earning below this rate would qualify for the new FAIR Play program. Thandi said this is a first step in determining whether this income level is correct. Over the coming months, the city will seek feedback from program participants and those wishing to participate but continue to find barriers to participation. 

Central Park outdoor pool. Photo: City of Burnaby

Once the new program is operational, the city will seek participant feedback through its social media and website. Feedback forms will also be available at recreation centres and through the city’s community partners such as BNH. 

“We want to get feedback from people who are still unable to access our programs. It’s very important to understand what barriers may exist that maybe we haven’t addressed yet, but we’re able to either remove or reduce,” Thandi said.

While applicants wait for their applications to be processed, which will take about two weeks, they can access recreation facilities with a “Try It” pass, allowing 10 visits for any drop-in activities. The new program will also provide additional credit with programs requiring registration, such as art, music, or sports classes. However, residents who wish to apply to the new program will have to wait until March 1. 

“It would be amazing if we could start it right away. There are some training aspects we have to do with our trusted partners, as well as our staff and some administrative pieces that we have to get in place. That’s why there’s a little bit of a delay with the March 1st start of the program,” Thandi said.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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