The Alberta government will re-index benefit payments to inflation for nearly 300,000 people, the Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services announced Wednesday.
Minister Jeremy Nixon said he was working to have Assured Income for the Severely Disabled (AISH), income support benefits and financial assistance for the elderly unfrozen “as soon as possible”, but did not could not provide a timetable.
“That’s obviously the one we want to make sure we get through,” Nixon said in an interview Wednesday. “Getting the right number is key. And we also understand the urgency of that.”
In 2018, the former NDP government linked the value of these benefits to the cost of living in Alberta.
After its election in 2019, the United Conservative Party government suspended the policy, saying the province could not afford the rising costs while running deficits.
The province projects a $13 billion surplus this year.
According to Statistics Canada, the consumer price index, which tracks the relative cost of goods and services, rose 11.5% in Alberta between November 2019 and September 2022.
The province says that as of July 2022, about 71,000 people were receiving AISH, 47,000 people were receiving income support and 176,000 seniors were also receiving benefits.
Nixon’s press secretary said there were no plans to change the eligibility requirements for the benefits.
In a mandate letter from Prime Minister Danielle Smith released Wednesday, Smith told Nixon to adjust benefits for inflation “on a prospective basis.”
Bradley LaFortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said that was disappointing because it could cause benefit payments to stay below the poverty line for years, he said.
“We have to make up for lost time because people have been falling further and further behind for a long time,” he said.
When asked how the government intends to account for inflated spending over time, Nixon pointed to other affordability measures his government is taking, such as electricity rebates and a provincial tax cut. on fuel at the pump.
Nixon is also responsible for reviewing the pay of workers in the social services sector. Retaining employees who work in shelters and with people with disabilities is a challenge, Smith wrote. Nixon said workers’ wages had been frozen for too long.
Nixon must also strengthen Alberta’s food bank network and work with the Minister of Health to expand access to seniors’ residences.
A housing strategy introduced by the former minister is expected to continue, Smith said.
In his new affordability and public services portfolio, Minister Matt Jones is to come up with “inflation-fighting measures” to address the cost of living for Albertans, his letter says. Smith said he will look at regulated natural gas and electricity prices and see if electricity transmission and distribution costs can be reduced.
In an interview, Jones said “all options are on the table” to mitigate the effects of high inflation. He did not rule out direct cash payments to citizens.
Jones, who served as children’s services minister for the past few months, will also negotiate with the federal government to try to change a $3.8 billion federal-provincial child care agreement to include more new spaces. in private daycare.
NDP critic for seniors, community and social services Marie Renaud said the government should apologize, not take a victory lap, for its promise to reindex benefits for vulnerable Albertans.
Renaud said other changes to benefits, which reduced payments to some recipients, remain in place, as does a flawed appeals system for people who are denied benefits.
Food banks, Renaud said, should only be used in emergencies. Rather than bolstering the food bank system, the government should make sure Albertans don’t need to use them, she said.
“It really feels like more band-aids and announcements, as opposed to a really mature and thoughtful plan to tackle this growing poverty,” she said. “And it’s a crisis.”
LaFortune said he was disappointed to see the Smith government go ahead with the Kenney government’s plan to privatize some social housing in the province. He said public investment in housing is immediately needed to address the homelessness and affordability crises.