Calgary

Calgary woman kicked off provincial supports and benefits after receiving student aid

A Calgary woman says she's falling through the cracks after her government support was cut when she was approved for student aid money, and is now unable to pay her bills. 

Province says individuals not eligible for support, benefits while collecting student aid for fulltime program

Journey Ginger says she is unable to pay for rent and food after she was denied Alberta Works income support when she was approved for student aid. (Submitted)

A Calgary woman says she's falling through the cracks after her government support was cut when she was approved for student aid money, and is now unable to pay her bills. 

Journey Ginger says she'd been receiving living expense funds and medical benefits from Alberta Works since 2019. It enabled the 23-year-old, who grew up in foster care and suffers from a number of chronic illnesses, to pay her rent and put food on the table. 

Last fall, Ginger found a program at Reeves College that inspired her, and she enrolled in the accelerated Child and Youth Services Worker program.

"All I wanted was to go to school, do something and feel normal again and I found something where my potential career is helping those who are like me," she said.

Ginger said after she was accepted in the program, she knew she'd need student aid to cover the nearly $20,000 cost of tuition and books — so she applied. 

An initial assessment from Alberta Student Aid found that her tuition and living expenses would cost her $34,000 but only approved her for $22,500 for the duration of her year-long program — essentially covering the cost of tuition and books.

Student Aid then paid the first half of her tuition directly to the school, and deposited the remaining funds, meant to cover books, into her bank account.

According to Justin Marshall, press secretary for the minister of community and social services, Ginger received the maximum amount allowed. 

"The actual amount of a student's funding is calculated by taking eligible costs, subtracting resources, and is then subject to annual student loan limits, which is $22,500 for a three semester program," he said.

"In this case, the assessment is showing the total costs less the flat rate student contribution. It is greater than the annual loan limit for the program. The total award reflects the loan maximum."

Ginger said after being approved for student aid, she was then told by Alberta Works that she was no longer eligible to receive the funds and medical benefits through that program.

According to Marshall, under the Income Support program (Alberta Works), an individual is not eligible to receive income support and benefits if they have been approved for student funding to attend full-time training.

"I can't live off of $2,000 for the next 11 months, so I've just been trying to get a hold of someone at student aid," she said.

Ginger submitted multiple reviews on the student aid website, and called numerous times. She was told there was a backlog but that the reviews would be complete within 70 days. 

Then over the weekend, the statuses of her reviews changed to complete — and things changed again for Ginger, but not in a way that helps her, she says.

"I'm still getting $22,500 total, but now I'm getting it in $4,000 in [disability] grants and only $7,500 for [my next] school payment," she said, adding that she'll have to pay the remainder of her tuition from the grant money. 

"I was going to use that to pay my rent."

Ginger said while she's happy her tuition is paid for, she still doesn't have any money to cover the costs of living — and has been given two notices for missed rent payments. 

Ginger says she has received multiple notices of late rent, but as a full-time student with disabilities she is unable to find a job that meets her needs and schedule. (Submitted)

Marshall said community and social services is always available to look at a case file if someone may be facing eviction.

"The individual could be eligible for emergency benefits. We recommend to contact your case worker to see if you qualify for this assistance," he said. 

But, Ginger said she has done that, and was told without an eviction notice they couldn't help her.

The young woman said it's also been disappointing to learn that because she split her time spent in foster care between Alberta and British Columbia, she isn't eligible for the province's Advancing Futures Bursary, which helps youth who have been in care with funding and supports while they pursue post-secondary studies. 

She says she feels let down by a system that is supposed to help vulnerable young people create a better life.

"My mental health is deteriorating … I just feel helpless and that I wish that I never tried going back to school. I should have just stayed on welfare," she said.

"I was so happy and excited, but I'm not excited anymore. I'm just, well, I can't even pay for rent or batteries or Internet services."

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