Calgary

Minister rules out cuts to AISH payments but advocates still have concerns

Rajan Sawhney, Alberta's minister of community and social services, ruled out cuts to Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments in a statement posted Saturday.

Sawhney responded to report that the UCP government was considering cuts to AISH in 2021

Rajan Sawhney, minister of community and social services, said in a Facebook post Saturday morning that no cuts would be made to AISH payments as part of an ongoing review. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Rajan Sawhney, Alberta's minister of community and social services, ruled out cuts to Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments in a statement posted on social media Saturday.

"To those of you who have had a sleepless night, due to the stress of yesterday's news, let me provide you with some reassurance," Sawhney said on Facebook, adding that no changes had been made to the AISH program and that an ongoing review was focused on service delivery.

"Let me state definitively that there will be no cuts to AISH financial benefits."

Sawhney was responding to a Friday report from the Calgary Herald that the United Conservative Party government was considering cuts to AISH in 2021. CBC News has not independently confirmed the report.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Sawhney didn't dispute the report that cuts were being considered as part of the provincial review, writing that the government was taking a close look at all of its programs, including AISH, in efforts to ensure "they are delivered sustainably." 

AISH payments are received by approximately 70,000 Albertans. Those who are permanently unable to work due to medical conditions receive about $1,600 per month.

CBC News has reached out to the provincial government for additional information.

Parent says she wants stability

Kathy Marasco, who lives near Chestermere, has a 33-year-old son with autism who receives AISH payments. AISH takes care of her son's necessities — rent, groceries and utilities.

"I was panicking [when I read the news]. Not so much for my son, because I think if worst comes to worst, my husband and I are going to be able to say, 'OK, we can manage,'" Marasco said. "But there are many of my son's friends … other adults that he interacts with, and I know they struggle. 

"If there's any cuts to that, I just don't know where those cuts would come from. Do they give up a place to live or a place to eat nutritious food?"

Marasco said she doesn't have any animosity when it comes to how the needs of Albertan adults with disabilities are managed, but said whispers of instability are unhelpful.

"It's just this constant threat hanging all of our heads saying, 'OK, what are they going to cut? What are they not going to provide? What's next, basically?'" she said.

Advocate thankful for minister's statement

Trish Bowman, CEO of Inclusion Alberta, said she was relieved to read Sawhney's statement on Saturday.

"It would've been nice to hear that yesterday, because certainly thousands of Albertans really were incredibly concerned yesterday, so this is great news," Bowman said.

In a statement, Alberta's Opposition called Saturday's statement a "small win" for disabled Albertans, but stressed that the government's move last year to halt indexing of the program had already "clawed back" benefits.

Bowman said the deindexing was a "huge disappointment" given the rising cost of living in Alberta.

"People living on AISH when it's not indexed have less money to make ends meet," Bowman said. "So indexing was very welcomed, it was disappointed when it was deindexed and we'd certainly like to see that back on the table in the coming months and years, for sure."

At the time, the Alberta government said suspending indexation would save nearly $210 million by 2022-23, and Sawhney said the government would look at resuming indexation when the budget was balanced. 

With files from Janet French

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