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BC gov’t should offset possible HST effects on HIV+ people: BCPWA

Tax will increase cost of food supplements, vitamins: HIV+ man

BC’s upcoming Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) will seriously compromise both the physical and mental health of people living with HIV, says a Vancouver man who’s had the virus for 15 years.

Robert Nickerson says an increased tax on food supplements is going to hurt the HIV community as people living on disability payments or fixed incomes struggle to find ways to maintain their health.

The 12 percent tax, which combines the GST with the PST, is due to kick in Jul 1, 2010, but must be passed in the provincial legislature by Mar 30, says Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Herbert.

It will cover items such as food supplements and vitamins, most foods (basic groceries will be exempt), restaurant meals, hydro and heating bills, landline phone bills, haircuts, movie and theatre tickets, newspapers and magazines and funerals.

The BC Persons With AIDS Society (BCPWA) wants the provincial government to mitigate the tax’ effects on seniors and low or fixed-income folks by increasing benefits to those on pensions or with disabilities.

“It’s a regressive tax,” says BCPWA chair Glyn Townson. “There has been no protection for seniors and low income [persons]. You might as well take [away] 12 percent of their income.

“For the people who are living marginally, it’s too much,” he says, adding that many of BCPWA’s members fall under that category.

There will, however, be an HST credit paid quarterly to people or families with incomes under $25,000. That’s expected to assist about 1.1 million British Columbians, the government says.

Nickerson lives on a disability pension, and says much of it goes to food supplements essential for maintaining a healthy diet and offsetting the debilitating effects of drugs taken to control the infection.

He says the government adding stress to already marginalized people, coupled with the decline in health services and cuts to community support groups, is “a pretty nasty thing to do.”

And, he adds, the fact the tax is not on basic grocery items is nothing more than whitewash. With the tax’ impacts on the food production, transport and grocery sectors, those costs will be passed to consumers, Nickerson says. “This tax will dramatically impact direct costs associated with food and dietary requirements,” he predicts.

Moreover, there have been no disability payment increases for years, and that puts added pressure on those who are already at risk, Nickerson adds. “People are a lot more vulnerable to making bad choices and putting themselves at risk.”

“It will create real hardship,” Herbert agrees. “The dietary supplements for these folks are crucial because they’ve got wasting and need those nutrients.”

Herbert says it will impact the cost of bottled water many HIV-positive people need and also impact those who have to pay for someone to cook for them.

“It’s not pretty,” he says. “If this had been fully thought out, there would have been a consultation process.”

And that’s what BCPWA is looking for as it presses for an increase in benefits to mitigate the costs of the tax.

The Liberal government says the province will have the lowest HST in Canada, when it combines the seven percent BC provincial sales tax with the five percent federal goods and services tax, for a single sales tax rate of 12 percent.

Premier Gordon Campbell says the tax will create jobs and generate long-term economic growth by removing business costs.

The federal government has indicated it will provide the province with $1.6 billion in transitional funding for the tax’s implementation.