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It will take more time for social assistance payments to catch up to the need, said Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty. (Province of P.E.I.)

Social assistance rates are going up on P.E.I., but they still won't be what they need to be, says Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty.

The coming increase is the first since 2010. Since that time IRAC has approved rent increases of more than 10 per cent.

"I would love to see that we could literally be right where IRAC is, and then be able to keep up," said Docherty.

"We're not going to get there this year. Our increases are not that significant at all, but we're starting."

Docherty's department received one of the largest increases of any in last week's provincial budget: $4.4 million. She said details on how that will be spent will be given out during budget estimates.

She added her department will keep a close eye on how its clients make out under the HST. She said she doesn't know yet whether the rebates being offered by the province for low-income households will be enough.

Low-income Islanders not protected from HST, Opposition charges

Premier Robert Ghiz defended the government's approach to the HST and low-income households in the legislature Wednesday.

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Social assistance rates on P.E.I. are deplorable, says Olive Crane. (Province of P.E.I.)

During question period, the opposition called on the government to raise payments to Islanders on social assistance. MLA Olive Crane pointed out that the costs of housing, food and clothing have all gone up with the introduction of the HST.

She said the government has fallen short of its commitment to protect low-income Islanders from the impact of the HST.

Ghiz disagreed.

"Our number one issue was looking out for Islanders that could be deemed as vulnerable, Madame Speaker," he responded.

"That is why we set up a program where the exemptions were put around home heating fuel, around children's clothing, that is why we put in the exemptions."

Ghiz said the program will be reviewed after a year and changes made if they are necessary to protect low-income Islanders.

Crane called the current rates for social assistance deplorable.