No children? No cash: Many working Albertans will not receive the government’s anti-inflation benefits

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Alberta’s affordability minister is defending a new program that provides cash to families, seniors and people receiving social benefits, but excludes single working people on low incomes.

On Tuesday, Premier Danielle Smith announced in a televised speech that families earning up to $180,000 a year will be given $600 for each dependent child six months and older. The benefit will also be extended to seniors and recipients of Income Support, Assured Income for the Severely Disabled (AISH) and People with Developmental Disabilities (PDD).

An adult working 40 hours a week at Alberta’s minimum wage of $15 an hour takes home about $31,200 a year. However, this person would not qualify for the $600 government payment unless they are a senior or have a child.

“We need to target additional support where it’s most needed,” Matt Jones, Alberta’s minister of affordability and utilities, said Wednesday.

“Seniors and disabled Albertans and families with large numbers of dependents appear to be worthy recipients of additional targeted support,” he said.

Jones said the $180,000 figure is based on the threshold used for childcare benefits. He said childless Albertans should see benefits from other affordability measures, such as the suspension of the provincial fuel tax and electricity rebates over the winter.

The affordability measures are expected to start in January, with more details early next month. Those details will be contained in the enabling legislation the government hopes to pass during the four-week autumn session which starts on Tuesday.

Jones made the comments at a news conference announcing $10 million in funding over two years for Alberta Food Banks. The province will also provide an additional $10 million in matching funds during the same period to food banks, charities, non-profits and civil society organizations.

Arianna Scott, president of Alberta Food Banks, said aside from the $6 million in COVID-19 support, this funding is the first food banks have received from the provincial government.

“This is a first,” she said. “So this is pretty important to us.”

‘French plan’

Smith faces criticism that the new affordability measures are an attempt to buy votes for the next provincial election in May 2023.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the plan “a pre-election gift card” pulled together without much thought.

She said the cash assistance program excludes many Albertans who need help, such as single working adults without children or childless couples who are scraping together a family income by working multiple minimum wage jobs.

Notley said the measure looks like “a back-of-the-napkin kind of frantic plan thrown together by a premier … who’s just really not very good at governing.”

In 2019, former Prime Minister Jason Kenney and his government removed cost-of-living increases from AISH, income support and other social benefits as a cost-cutting measure.

Since then, high inflation has drastically eroded what people can afford, driving many to seek help from food banks.

While Smith is committed to bringing back indexation from January, Notley said the measure still leaves benefit recipients $3,000 short of where they would have been if the government had left payments alone three years ago.

In Smith’s nine-minute speech on Tuesday night, she discussed rebates to help people with high electricity bills and measures to prevent price increases during the winter months.

She wants to eliminate the provincial fuel tax for at least six months to help lower the price of gas. She re-announced former Premier Jason Kenney’s plan to begin indexing tax brackets to the rate of inflation starting with the 2022 tax season.

In addition to helping food banks, Smith said she wants to fund more low-income transit passes.

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