For the first time in 15 years, Manitoba is raising the shelter rates it gives to adults on social assistance.

The shelter rates for non-disabled, single adults will increase to $285 per month, plus an additional $35 a month from the Manitoba Shelter Benefit, Family Service Minister Gord Mackintosh announced Tuesday.

Non-disabled couples with no children will also receive a $35-per-month increase.

Rooming house rates will increase to $285 per month, plus the $35 from the Manitoba Shelter Benefit  — a total increase of $84 per month.

The increased assistance payments will start the end of June, to help pay July's rent. Manitoba Shelter Benefits will be issued in July.

Health benefits extended

In addition, the government announced the introduction of a new rent allowance under its Rewarding Work program; the $50-per-month benefit will help non-disabled single adults and couples without children pay rent after they leave welfare for work.

The benefit will be provided for up to one year, and eligible recipients will receive it in the month after they leave assistance. The first cheques will be issued at the end of October.

Two other programs were also unveiled Tuesday under the Rewarding Work scheme, for people who go off welfare for work:

  • A one-time payment, starting in February, of $175 to $325 for costs related to starting a new job, such as the purchase of tools.
  • A health plan for singe parents and people with disabilities that extends coverage for prescription drugs, optical and dental services for up to two years, starting in December.

Poverty rates dropping, says government

The government's announcement comes less than a week after the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg presented the government with a 10,000-signature petition calling for an increase in welfare rates.

The council launched a Raise the Rates campaign last September, arguing that basic assistance rates have not kept pace with inflation. The campaign was supported by the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce.

Shelter assistance rates had remained stagnant since 1993, the council said, while Manitoba rent increase guidelines had gone up 19 per cent in the same period. The group estimates 60,000 Manitobans use Employment and Income Assistance as their major source of income.

Mackintosh said new figures from Statistics Canada suggest Manitoba has been making progress on reducing poverty. 

The number of children living in poverty overall dropped by 36 per cent to 12.4 per cent between 1999 and 2006, the government said — not including children living on reserves.

The total number of Manitobans living in poverty fell to 11.4 per cent in 2006 from 14.9 per cent in 1999.

Still, Manitoba has the third-highest ranking in the country for poverty.