Province reviewing growing case numbers for AISH and PDD programs

The Alberta government is hiring an outside contractor to review the reasons for an increase in the number of people the  receiving benefits from disability programs like Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH).

Opposition critic says review a way to provide cover for changes in eligibility

Rajan Sawhney, minister of community and social services, is responsible for programs that support disabled Albertans. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The Alberta government is hiring an outside contractor to review the reasons for an increase in the number of people receiving benefits from disability programs such as Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.

The $75,000 review will look at AISH, Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) and Family Supports for Children with Disabilities (FSCD). 

According to the document provided to potential bidders, work was set to start Nov. 30 and wrap up by Dec. 23, though the timeline could be extended by three weeks if required. 

"The caseloads of programs that serve disabled Albertans are increasing," the document said. 

"The project will enhance understanding of the external and internal factors that are related to these increases and how government can better align policy, program design and delivery with these factors.

"The findings of the project will be considered as part of the ongoing requirement to review the efficiency and efficacy of all government programs and will support the province's planning and decision making process."

The contractor is expected to suggest "practical and feasible recommendations to improve the financial sustainability of the programs."

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney was not made available for an interview. 

In a statement to CBC News, her press secretary Jerry Bellikka said the contract is part of the government's commitment "to review the efficiency and efficacy of all government programs" and "will support the province's planning and decision-making process."

He said the successful bidder will be named and a timeline set once the contract is finalized. 

Marie Renaud, the NDP critic for community and social services, said she was alarmed by the narrow scope of the review, the lack of consultation and the short timeline, particularly in light of comments made by Premier Jason Kenney and his staff in September.

After Kenney mused about needing to look at growing case numbers, Matt Wolf, his executive director of issues management, followed up with tweets suggesting thousands of AISH recipients might not meet the definition of being "severely handicapped" because they have anxiety or ADHD. 

Renaud said she thinks the government is using a tactic it has tried before to justify changes to eligibility requirements. 

"The evidence we've seen with this government is that a lot of these panels and reviews are really a way to give themselves cover for the next steps that they're going to take," she said.

According to the bidding document, the successful proponent will look at internal government data, socio-economic information and past reviews. There is no indication they are expected to hold consultations with people who use the program or their families. 

Renaud said the programs in question are old and could use a review, but not in the way the government is attempting.  She thinks the contractor's findings will be used to justify cuts in the February provincial budget.