Manitoba stands to benefit most from new Canada Child Benefit

Manitoba stands to see the greatest proportion of children lifted out of poverty among the provinces under the new Canada Child Benefit.

It doesn't 'level the playing field but gets you up just a little bit higher,' Winnipeg mom says

The new Canada Child Benefit introduced by Justin Trudeau's Liberal government rolls out Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Manitoba stands to see the greatest proportion of children lifted out of poverty among the provinces under the new Canada Child Benefit.

The income transfer program rolls out this week across Canada.

Starting in 2020, the benefit program will be indexed to inflation, meaning it will grow over time as costs rise.

According to the federal government, 52 per cent of Manitoba children, or 21,000 children, will be lifted above the low-income cut off.

Joy Black, a Winnipeg single parent who lives on employment and income assistance, says the new Canada Child Benefit will help her provide a better life for her two children, aged 13 and 15.

Starting Wednesday, she will begin receiving about $300 per month, tax free. That's more than double what Black received under the Conservative's universal child care benefit, which was subject to tax.

"That's such a big help," Black said. "While I will still have to go to Winnipeg Harvest, I will still be able to eat better with this money."

Where the money will go

Along with purchasing better food, Black said she plans to use the extra income to pay down household bills, enrol her children in recreation programs and purchase clothes and birthday presents.

"It doesn't really level the playing field but gets you up just a little bit higher," she said. "My income has not increased and [as] everything else has been increasing, I've been cutting and cutting and cutting."

Black's children are among six million in Canada who stand to gain from the new Canada Child Benefit.

The poorest families in Canada will see the highest level of extra income under the plan. Middle-income families will see some benefit while the wealthiest will receive no money from the program.

"We are going to see what I like to call the most important social policy innovation in a generation," Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of families, children and social development, said on Tuesday.

"[It] will create an entirely new system for family transfers to benefit the middle class families in Canada [and] reduce poverty in a very significant manner."

The average family will receive $2,300 per year from the Canada Child Benefit, he said. 

Empowering families

An important part of the Canada Child Benefit is the autonomy it gives parents to decide where they want to spend their extra income, said Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

"Giving money to low income people does work," she said. "I'm really loathe to criticize, to find something wrong with [the Canada Child Benefit]. Let's roll it out and let's see what people spend their money on and let's see what effect it has."

Black said because there are no strings attached to the extra income, she and other low-income parents will feel a greater sense of empowerment.

"The money is yours to do with what you think is best and hopefully it's going to benefit the children," she said.

High rates of child poverty

Manitoba is home to two of the worst ranking ridings for child poverty: Churchill–Keewatinook Aski and Winnipeg Centre.

A 2015 report by Campaign 2000 called child poverty in Manitoba a "chronic nightmare," with one in every 3½ children growing up in poverty.

Molly McCracken, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' Winnipeg office, said in order for the new benefit to make a dent in those numbers, the Manitoba government must maintain provincial programs like Rent Assist.

"That's an important facet of this to watch for. The community groups worked really hard to get this shelter benefit program introduced," said McCracken.

Minister Duclos said so far no provinces have indicated they will be clawing back programs because of the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit.

with files from Aaron Saltzman