Manitoba

Freezing rental assistance while slashing PST misguided, Manitoba anti-poverty group says

Anti-poverty groups say low-income Manitobans seeking affordable housing are being left behind by a government touting a cut to the provincial sales tax. 

Some single adults getting an additional $27 a month while freeze leaves others behind: Make Poverty History

Make Poverty History Manitoba steering committee member Josh Brandon, left, speaks about recent changes to the province's Rent Assist program on Wednesday. (Ian Froese/CBC)

An anti-poverty group says low-income Manitobans seeking affordable housing are being left behind by a government touting its cut to the provincial sales tax. 

The province will freeze the benefit that thousands of single, low-income adults receive through the Rent Assist program toward their rent beginning on July 1 — the same day the province's PST drops from eight per cent to seven per cent.

The provincial government has said the monthly benefit for most categories of Rent Assist recipients will increase this year.

But the benefit is frozen for a newly created category of recipients — single adults who are under the age of 55 and not on disability benefits.

"On the very day that the PST cut will go into effect … low-income renters will start the month $27 in the hole when they pay their landlord," said Michael Barkman, chair of the anti-poverty group Make Poverty History Manitoba.

He was comparing the frozen benefit for adults under 55 who aren't on disability with the increase coming for individuals who are over 55 or who receive disability benefits.

Recipients deserving of help: advocate

Make Poverty History Manitoba invited media to the West Central Women's Resource Centre on Wednesday morning to outline the changes to Rent Assist and Employment and Income Assistance (EIA), which they say will pose challenges for many adults already struggling to make ends meet.

Josh Brandon, a steering committee member with Make Poverty History Manitoba, said the government is neglecting a demographic sometimes perceived as undeserving of help.

Single adults on assistance can also face challenges in finding steady work, he said.  

"To create a distinction and say that this one group of people, 'We're going to give them reduced benefits, we're going to put them deeper into poverty' — that's not going to help them get into the workforce," he said. "It's going to just make it harder for them."

Gloria Knott, a former Employment and Income Assistance recipient who is now employed with the West Central Women's Resource Centre, says people she works with are feeling the effects of provincial cuts. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The province must adjust the monthly benefit annually to reflect median market rates, according to legislation.

The anti-poverty group also criticized the government for cutting a $25 a month job-seeking allowance earlier this spring for welfare recipients who are not disabled and have no children.

The group has called on Minister of Families Heather Stefanson to reverse its recent decisions and ensure all Manitobans have an income that at least reaches the poverty line. It asked for increased investments in education, training, housing and child care, as well as a $15 an hour minimum wage.  

Make Poverty History says the province's Progressive Conservative government has also dropped the income thresholds for the Rent Assist program — making fewer housholds eligible for the program — and cut the monthly benefit during its three years in power.

'It only makes things harder'

The province told CBC News it is providing more help for more people on Rent Assist

"About 75 per cent of recipients will receive an increase this year, while others' rates remain consistent with last year's levels. No one will receive a reduced amount," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

In another change, the province says the benefit rate for a single person who isn't receiving a disability benefit "will be based on [the rental rate for] a bachelor suite and held at current rates until the market rates catch up to the existing benefit."

Previously, the benefit was based on an average rental rate between bachelor suites and one-bedroom apartments.

The move will reduce the benefit amount for those people, since rental rates on bachelor suites are cheaper on average.

Gloria Knott, a former EIA recipient who now works for the West Central Women's Resource Centre, said the government's changes frustrate her.

"I know how it plays out for people," she said. "I know that it only makes things harder."

The province said the number of people who receive non-EIA Rent Assist has increased by nearly 40 per cent and spending on the program has doubled since 2016.

"We recognize there is more work to do and we are committed to getting better results for vulnerable Manitobans," Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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