Edmonton

'It really upsets me': AISH recipients worry about halt to indexing

Amy Park thought her life would get better when the Alberta government started indexing her monthly AISH payments to the cost of living at the beginning of 2019. 

'This is our lives ... it’s not like we’ve won the lottery'

Amy Park, flanked by NDP Leader Rachel Notley, right, and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud, explains how deindexing of benefits will affect her and other AISH recipients. (Craig Ryan/CBC )

Amy Park thought her life would get better when the Alberta government started indexing her monthly AISH payments to the cost of living at the beginning of 2019. 

The change, announced by the previous NDP government in late 2018, meant the benefits paid under the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped Program would increase for the first time in years. 

But that changed with the Oct. 21 budget. The United Conservative government which took power in April revealed that indexing would be put on hold until the deficit was eliminated. 

AISH recipients who receive $1,685 each month will see approximately $30 less on their benefit cheques. The amount will increase each year as the benefits remain flat as the cost of living increases.

NDP leader Rachel Notley says the reduction will be $120 a month by 2023. 

Park, 26, said she and other AISH recipients will have to make tough choices.

"Things like electricity bills, things like gas, things like heating will all go up," Park said at a news conference organized by the NDP Opposition Wednesday. 

"Any little thing like that will be increased and that $30 a month will mean having to choose between that and living basically." 

Suspending indexation of AISH is expected to save the government nearly $210 million by 2022-23. The savings go up each year to $7 million in 2019-20; $35 million in 2020-21; $66.4 million in 2021-22 and $101.4 million by 2022-23.

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said the government will look at resuming indexation once the budget is balanced. The government plans to return to a surplus by 2023.

'It really upsets me' 

Premier Jason Kenney has characterized the cuts as not being onerous and said AISH payments are the most generous in the country. 

"Honestly it makes me very mad," Park said about Kenney's remarks. "This is our lives ... it's not like we've won the lottery. 

"This is paying the rent. This is buying groceries. This is paying the bills." 

Notley raised the issue in the legislature as Park and other AISH recipients watched from the gallery. 

Kenney said his government is increasing AISH supports by 11 per cent and accused the NDP of not taking action on indexing until the last year of their mandate. 

"Altogether from 2018-19 to 2022 this represents a quarter of a billion dollars of additional resources for AISH," he said. "Those are the facts."

"The facts are that each individual human being — think about the humans, premier — are getting less," Notley responded. 

"Show some courage, look up in the gallery, look them in the eye, and tell them once again that what you're doing is not onerous."

Marie Renaud, the NDP MLA for St. Albert and her party's critic for community and social services, said there is an increase in this year's AISH budget to account for an increase in caseload but there are reductions in the budget in the three subsequent years.