Islanders on social assistance shouldn't have to wait two years for significant increases in their food allowance, says a UPEI nutrition professor.
P.E.I. Social Services Minister Valerie Docherty announced Wednesday she is looking at raising rates as early as this summer, but big increases to food allowances will likely not come until two years in to a five-year plan.
Professor Jennifer Taylor said people should not have to wait that long. Taylor's recent food costing study in Charlottetown showed families on assistance are short almost $150 a month trying to buy a monthly basket of 66 basic food items.
"My concern is the amount that it's going to go up is not going to reach that very basic minimum, for a basket of goods that most of us would consider very basic healthy food," she said.
If we can't meet that standard we're still going to have families that are going to be suffering and struggling."
Taylor would like to see the gap closed as soon as possible, especially given Docherty's department had a surplus of almost $2 million last year.
Food costing study needed
Taylor also said the P.E.I. government needs to do its own food cost study to determine social assistance rates.
Docherty said the coming increases will be based on a number of factors, including the consumer price index, and Taylor's recent study.
But Taylor said her study is not sufficient for the province's needs, because it only looks at costs in Charlottetown.
"What we gathered were data from three grocery stores in Charlottetown. We didn't do any in the rural areas. We have urban grocery stores and large chains, and we know that the prices in those stores are going to be lower than the smaller stores we will see in rural areas," Taylor told CBC News.
"We did not do [this study] so that the province could turn around and say 'Thanks a lot. We're not going to bother doing this because you did three stores in P.E.I.'"
Docherty said her department is also using regional food price figures. A researcher who does work for the Nova Scotia government has also recommended P.E.I. not use her studies, as they would likely not reflect prices on the Island.