Edmonton

'We're really getting left behind': AISH recipient laments lack of new funding

As the province's minimum wage gradually increases to $15 per hour, AISH recipients are concerned their benefits haven't increased since 2012.

Benefit payments for disabled Albertans stagnate as province's minimum wage continues to rise

A stormy view of the Alberta legislature as AISH recipients call for increased benefits. (CBC News)

Michael Young has been unable to hold down a job since suffering a head injury while in the army when he was 24 years old.

He has brain damage and his memory is faulty.

"I could get a job but it would only last a month," he said. "They'd find out I'm not learning what I'm supposed to, and things like that.

"I'd be driving a truck and I could make the machine go, I could drive the truck, but I couldn't navigate. I couldn't get from point A to point B without getting lost. And of course, they said, 'We can't have this, we can't use you anymore.'"

Now 58 years old, the Stettler man relies solely on the province's Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program to make ends meet.

AISH provides a maximum of $1,588 per month to those with permanent disabilities that affect their ability to earn a living.  

Even so, Young lives cheque to cheque and said the amount isn't nearly enough after rent and bills.

"It's doable, but you know, I go to the food bank because $1,588 doesn't really go very far," he said.

"It just makes me really anxious. I have anxiety attacks because I don't know how I'm going to pay my bills."

Premier Rachel Notley's government has pledged to gradually hike Alberta's minimum wage to $15 an hour by October 2018.

A minimum wage earner working 40 hours a week will earn $2,400 per month under the hike.

But Young laments AISH benefits remain unchanged. 

"Minimum wage earners that are working a 40 hour week are getting hundreds more than we are," he said.

"When I did the math, I was quite surprised how much we were getting left behind. If they want minimum wage earners to get up to a living wage, well, we need a living wage too."

No plans to increase benefits

AISH was last hiked in 2012, from $1,188 to the current $1,588 a month.

Last October, the program was slammed by auditor general Merwan Saher for being inefficient and inconsistent.

Earlier this year, the NDP government announced it will overhaul the program for the first time since 2004, to make it more accessible and user-friendly. 

 'If they want minimum wage earners to get up to a living wage, well, we need a living wage too.'- Michael Young, AISH recipient

Absent from the proposed changes was any mention of increasing benefits.

In a statement to CBC News, Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir said his government knows how important AISH is to the 55,000 Albertans who receive financial help through the program.

"Unfortunately, because the economy is still recovering, we're unable to provide additional increases at this time," he said. 

Sabir pointed to other actions his government has taken to ensure Albertans have the supports they need, including introducing the new Alberta Child Benefit, funding low-income transit passes in Edmonton and increasing funding for Family and Community Support Services by $25 million.

"Instead of making reckless cuts to AISH, we increased funding by over $90 million to ensure AISH is available to all Albertans who need it," he said.

In a statement, Alberta's Community Services Minister says there are no immediate plans to increase AISH benefits. (CBC)

About the Author

Alicia Asquith

Host/Reporter

Alicia Asquith is an award winning journalist based in Edmonton. She is also the host and producer of the CBC Alberta television news on weekends. She's previously worked as a reporter and video journalist in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Venezuela.