P.E.I. government documents show social assistance rates in the province provide, on average, only 61 per cent of the money required for a healthy diet, CBC News has learned.

Judy Barrett

Proposed increases in the social assistance food budget are not enough, says Judy Barrett of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. (Laura Chapin/CBC)

The analysis comes from a government presentation to anti-poverty groups obtained through a freedom of information request.

The government estimates it was last providing a sufficient budget for a healthy diet in 2002. Since then it has increased the food rate just once, by 10 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, food costs are up almost 40 per cent.

Anti-poverty groups say this is unacceptable.

Judy Barrett is with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the anti-poverty groups Social Services met with for feedback. Barrett said the Holy Redeemer chapter is handing out about $25,000 a year in food vouchers to help P.E.I. families. It is supposed to be emergency assistance, but she said for some families it is turning into a monthly need.

'They don't know what we go through from month by month for food, and how we go about doing it.' - Lenora Northrup

"They're shopping around for handouts," said Barrett.

"That's got to be a pretty upsetting and demoralizing feeling for many families, because if you have to go out and beg and look for food it's a sad reflection on our province."

It's a familiar feeling for Lenora Northrup, who spoke to CBC News at the Charlottetown Soup Kitchen. Northrup, who is on social assistance, has heart problems, diabetes and mental health issues. She said it takes very little time for her husband, and her two adult children to eat through the monthly food allowance.

"I think it sucks. I think the government is just looking out for themselves," she said.

Social assistance food budget chart

A chart prepared by the P.E.I. government shows food budgets under social assistance have fallen well behind what is required for a healthy diet. (Government of P.E.I.)

"They don't know what we go through from month by month for food, and how we go about doing it. They don't have any clue and they don't want to know. There should be someone there that understands people's needs."

The government has announced a proposal to increase social assistance rates over the next five years. Barrett said she was told it will increase to cover 70 per cent of food costs over the next five years, and she said that's not enough.

Government won't confirm the increases until after cabinet makes a decision, likely in early July.

CBC News contacted the Department of Community Services for an interview with Minister Valerie Docherty on this issue, but the minister declined.

For mobile device users: See the government presentation here