UCP government changes application process for AISH
Applicants must first prove medical condition to determine eligibility
The UCP government this week made another change to an income support program for people with severe disabilities who are unable to work.
Albertans who apply for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) will first have to prove their physical and or mental condition prevents them from working.
Before the change, applicants first had to supply information related to their income and prove they don't have more than $100,000 in assets.
Community and Social Services minister Rajan Sawhney was not available for an interview. However, her director of communications said the change was made to improve how the government serves Albertans who apply for the program.
"The most recent process update simply changed the order in which the ministry reviews applicants' medical and financial information," read the statement provided to CBC News.
The government says there were no changes to the eligibility criteria.
Critics say applicants must now go through an often lengthy and costly process to prove medical eligibility without knowing whether they will qualify for the income support benefit, which has been capped at $1,685 per month.
"There's a lot of cost, and it's a lot of work to get that piece [medical] done," said Marie Renaud, the Opposition critic for Community and Social Services.
She believes the original format to determine eligibility, with the financial piece first, would be less onerous on applicants.
"Medical does take a lot of time and it is really involved. It involves a lot of trips and assessments," she said.
Renaud says the government hasn't done a good enough job to explain why the change is being made, other than to say the goal is to streamline the process.
She says the UCP government has made several changes to the program that makes people who rely on the support and applicants nervous.
The government moved to de-index benefits from inflation, which removed cost of living increases and also changed the payment schedule, which caused concern for people who faced penalties from their landlords for late rent payments.
"This has been sort of a systematic attack on these benefits."
No changes to eligibility
The government says moving the medical requirement as the first determinant for applicants does not mean that the eligibility requirements have changed.
The government says 99 per cent of the people who are medically eligible for AISH also meet the financial criteria.
"I will point out that no changes have been made to AISH eligibility, benefits or the information Albertans need to provide with their applications," said the spokesperson.
A better process
An agency that helps Albertans apply for AISH believes the requirement to submit the medical criteria first will improve the application process and could result in a faster decision for those awaiting benefits.
"I'm hoping that the process doesn't take three, four or six months," said Margot Brunner, the executive director of Voice of Albertans with Disabilities.
"In my ideal world, I would like to see a six-week turnover in applications," she said.
The NDP says it's wary of any changes the government makes to AISH since it started tinkering with the program last year.
"This is a group of people that live well below any poverty line that you want to use," said Renaud.
"If they're going to mess around with the intake process for AISH applicants or income support applicants … I think they need to be very clear about what that means."
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.