Venture Training takes Victoria to court

The Vernon and District Association for Community Living has filed court documents against the government over employee benefits.

A Vernon organization is suing the provincial government.

The Vernon and District Association for Community Living, which operates Venture Training, is among five B.C. non-profit agencies to file court documents against the government over employee benefits.

Eileen Howells, executive director, says  that when VDACL attempted to withdraw from the Healthcare Benefit Trust, a government-selected benefits provider, it was handed a bill for unfunded liability.

“We were initially told there was $160,000 in debt for long-term disability and now it’s about $120,000,” said Howells.

“But other organizations have liabilities of $1 million.”

Howells says VDACL and the other agencies didn’t know there were exit levies or that they would be responsible for shortfalls in the plan.

“None of us signed a contract with HBT. The government negotiated with HBT and we weren’t given any information,” she said.

According to the B.C. CEO Network, representing the agencies, the situation began when the then-NDP government forced them to cancel their employee benefit insurance and obtain uninsured coverage from HBT.

“When the agencies complained that HBT was too risky, they were assured the risk was miniscule. They were also told the costs would be fully funded by the province,” states a B.C. CEO release.

“The HBT reports this plan is underfunded by millions of dollars. But instead of going after the funder of the plan to make up the shortfall, the HBT says the agencies must pay. And contrary to earlier commitments, the province, under the Liberals, now says that agencies are responsible for the shortfall.”

The agencies claim the government didn’t fulfill its responsibilities when it influenced benefit rates, underfunded the plan and shifted costs to the agencies.

VDACL, which left the Healthcare Benefit Trust in 2009, expects the court case could take a year.

“That $120,000 impacts our programs and staffing. They (government) are taking away from the vulnerable,” said Howells.

The Ministry of Social Development states it cannot comment on specifics as the matter is before the courts.

“After two years of discussions, a repayment plan has been developed for members that have withdrawn from the Healthcare Benefit Trust without paying their contractually required exit levies,” states the ministry.

“This is a plan that ensures that the financial integrity of the trust is protected for those who benefit from it, primarily on long-term disability, and at the same time ensures no impact on services.”

HBT says it has provided an equitable and flexible long-term repayment plan for all agencies.

“HBT must continue to act in interests of the trust, our member agencies, and on behalf of those employees with disabilities who are entitled to receive LTD benefits,” said Elisabeth Whiting, director of client service and communications.

“As the matter appears to be moving before the court, HBT will not comment further.”