Edmonton

Income support funding dropping by $66M in 2021 Alberta budget

While funding is being maintained for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or AISH program, the province is planning to cut funding for income support, which includes a program supporting people with injuries and disabilities who can't keep or find full-time work. 

$53.5M drop in income support for people facing barriers to working full-time compared to previous budget

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney didn't cut AISH in the 2021 budget. But income suppport has dropped by $66 million from the amount in Budget 2020. (Peter Evans/CBC)

While funding is being maintained for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or AISH program, the province is planning to cut funding for income support, which includes a program supporting people with injuries and disabilities who can't keep or find full-time work. 

Funding for income support in Budget 2021 is $66 million lower than last year's budget. The government says this reflects a drop in case numbers due to the pandemic and a temporary switch to federal benefits. 

The income support stream that helps people who face "barriers to full-time employment" saw a drop of $53.5 million from the figure in last year's budget. The total figure for 2021-22 is set at $242 million.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud, the NDP opposition critic for community and social services, says many people who don't qualify for AISH because their conditions are not deemed to be permanent end up receiving this benefit.

"They have disabilities. They have been injured," she said. "You see a lot of people with really serious illnesses on barriers to employment."

The other income support stream for people "expected to work or working" has been reduced by $12.9 million for a total 2021-22 estimate of $428.5 million.

Rob Williams, press secretary for Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney, denied the program has been cut. He said there has been no change to benefits and program eligibility. 

"We have seen a temporary drop in case numbers because of the pandemic and the increased availability of federal recovery benefits," he said in an email to CBC News. 

Renaud is skeptical that the reductions are entirely due to the switch to federal pandemic benefits. 

She suspects the government is using the pandemic as an excuse to mask cuts it has been making to social programs over the past two years. 

'Devastating' cuts 

Prior to the tabling of the budget on Feb. 25, many AISH recipients feared the government would cut the program. Instead, funding increased by $330,000 but was accompanied by reductions to income support.

Renaud said the cuts are significant and will put desperate people in a worse situation.

"They can pat themselves on the back for not slashing and burning AISH," she said. "I'm glad they didn't because that would be a whole other nightmare. But what they've done to income support is devastating."

The basic amount for a single person on income support/barriers to full employment who lives in private housing is $866 per month. The program allocates additional amounts for medical transportation, childcare and special dietary needs. 

For example, recipients who are unable to move due to poor health can receive up to $307 a month if they are no longer able to afford their accommodation

Renaud says the government has been removing the supplements added to the basic amount. 

Williams says that isn't the case but acknowledges that recipients are required to make regular reports to their caseworkers.

"In some circumstances, clients may need to provide updated documentation to confirm eligibility for supplementary benefits," he said. 

The government says its forecast takes into account a return to pre-COVID numbers should federal pandemic relief run out.

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