Valerie Docherty

Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty has announced her department will increase food rates for those on Social Assistance. (CBC)

An investment of $2.8 million over five years to increase food rates for P.E.I. residents on Social Assistance was announced Thursday by Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty.

The increase, effective Sept. 1, is part of a commitment made in the 2012 Social Action Plan to Reduce Poverty, said Docherty in a news release.

Rates vary based on how many people in a household rely on social assistance.

For a single adult, the rate increase will amount to an additional $9 per month.

Carlene Carson's trips to the soup kitchen have become routine. She's been on social assistance since she was 18.

She said the rate increase is only about one day's worth of meals a month, and that's not enough. For her, hunger has taken its toll.

"My health has been risked. I've lost a tremendous amount of weight and it makes it very difficult to re-enter into the workforce as well. You get kind of stigmatized," she said.

The increases range from three to seven per cent in the first year alone, depending on how many people are in a family.

Over five years, the increases are projected to range from 17 to 50 per cent.

Others say while the changes are a step in the right direction, there's much more work to be done.

"The increases are good, that it will be indexed is good," said Jane Ledwell, executive director of the P.E.I. advisory council on the Status of Women.

But she said, "We have a really big leap to get to amounts that are adequate for people to be able to eat well, eat healthily every day and maintain good health." 

Docherty said she feels proud of the announcement.

"It is something we've been working on very hard since the announcement of our Social Action Plan," she said.

The increase will be based on the P.E.I. Consumer Price Index for food and will recognize the National Nutritious Food Basket, which monitors the cost and affordability of healthy eating.

"It is not simply a fact that we're making a specific percentage increase that we have come up with," said Docherty. "We are making the increases based on information that we've pulled together from the region and, as I said, based on CPI. So if CPI increases the rates will even increase further."

In the spring, department staff met with food security advocacy groups who provided feedback on food rates and food security issues.

"We were fortunate to have had valuable input from these community groups and the feedback we received helped us to shape this plan," said Docherty in the news release.

A working group on food insecurity will be set up under the Social Action Plan, she adds.

P.E.I. food rate increase