Income assistance keeps Manitobans at 50-70 per cent of poverty line: Protesters

Sub zero temperatures didn't stop close to a hundred people from gathering at the legislature Friday to call on the government to boost employment and income assistance (EIA) rates.

Nearly 100 people rallied at the legislature Friday, calling for a cost-of-living increase

Dozens took to the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Friday to call for increases to income assistance. (CBC News)

Sub-zero temperatures didn't stop close to a hundred people from gathering at the Manitoba Legislature Friday to call on the government to boost employment and income assistance (EIA) rates.

The rally was the final leg of a 12-day campaign launched by Make Poverty History Manitoba.

"We're asking the province to develop [a] comprehensive poverty reduction plan to lift all Manitobans above the poverty line," campaign chair Josh Brandon told CBC News.

The first step, he said, is to boost income assistance rates to keep pace with the cost of living. 

People live on 53-68 per cent of the poverty line income under current EIA rates, Brandon said. 

"People are going without their basic needs like food, clothing," he said. "They're having to make choices between paying their rent and having groceries at the end of the month."

Testimonial videos sent to premier

Over the last 12 days the group sent 12 testimonial videos to the premier. 

Manitobans on social assistance, like Rita Denedchezhe, spoke on the videos to tell the premier about the challenges they face. 

She lives with cerebral palsy and a number of physical and learning disabilities and relies on long-term disability assistance because she is unable to work. After her $430 rental allowance, Denedchezhe said she lives on $425 per month.

Rita Denedchezhe lives with cerebral palsy relies on long-term disability assistance. She lives on $425 per month after rent. (CBC News)

"It seems like it's a lot of money but it's not. Half it goes towards cable and phone and then my groceries and my clothing," she said. "Not having enough means maybe the person doesn't have adequate housing, adequate nutritious food, adequate clothing to go to work and live with dignity."

Under the province's current subsidy, single adults receive $677 per month for rent and basic needs under general assistance and those with disabilities receive $894 per month.

The province introduced a rental allowance boost in 2014 under the former NDP government — a program that could be on the chopping block under the current PC government. 

But the $195 allotted for food and other household needs has not gone up in 12 years, Brandon said.

The group is calling on the government to increase income assistance rates by $100 to $300 for single adults and adults with disabilities this year. Brandon said that kind of increase would lift Manitobans on social assistance to 75 per cent of the poverty line. 

Province responds

Family Services Minister Scott Fielding did not attend the rally.

In an email, he told CBC News his government is "working to provide support for Manitobans who are most in need."

"Our government has removed nearly 3000 low income Manitobans from the tax rolls by raising the basic personal exemption and has confirmed that there will be no 'claw back' to the Canada child benefit (CCB) for families that receive Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) benefits or other income supplements under the Department of Families," he said.

Fielding said the Rent Assist program also puts more money back in the hands of low-income Manitobans for basic needs.