Province paying less to low-income families through Manitoba Child Benefit
Anti-poverty advocate questions whether decrease due to lack of awareness
The Manitoba government is paying less money to low-income families through its Manitoba Child Benefit but Families Minister Scott Fielding says there have been no cuts or changes to the eligibility criteria for the program.
The benefit provides eligible low-income families with up to $420 per child each year. Budget estimates for 2018-19 show that the department expects to spend about $2.4 million on the program, down from $4.15 million in 2017-18.
NDP MLA Bernadette Smith (Point Douglas) raised the issue in question period, demanding that any changes to the program be communicated so that families can budget accordingly.
"This cut will mean less money on the table for Manitobans, essentially. We know that there is a poverty problem in Manitoba for children, and this is going to be a cut to those children that need it the most," she later said in an interview.
Fielding wasn't in the Legislature during question period. Speaking on the phone from Toronto, he said that the decreased estimate reflects the fact the department has been consistently spending less than estimated, and the total amount spent on the program has been falling steadily over the last few years.
Departmental numbers show that in 2016-17, the Manitoba Child Benefit paid $2,395,400. Total expenditures for 2017-18 are expected to be even lower, with $2.2 million spent as of March 2018.
A budget estimate document states that the "decrease more accurately reflects the current caseload."
"There's been absolutely no changes to the parameters of the program ... We pay out whatever applications come in and hit the criteria for it, so there isn't really a cut, it's just based on the actuals, and if there's more applications then we pay it out," Fielding said.
Fielding said there are fewer families needing to access the program, and although he couldn't say for certain why that is, he speculated it could be due to rising income. He also pointed out that families are receiving other supports, such as the Canada Child Benefit.
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg executive director Kate Kehler said she doubts that fewer families are accessing the program because they no longer need it.
"It may be that people don't know they should apply," she said.
- Resident of Manitoba.
- Have dependent children under the age of 18 who are in your care.
- In receipt of Canada Child Tax benefits for dependent children.
- Family income is below a specific level (currently full funding under $15,000, partial funding under $25,000).
- Cannot be in receipt of Employment and Income Assistance unless you are ONLY receiving the health benefits portion of EIA.
Kehler said she would like to see front-line workers in Child and Family Services and Employment and Income Assistance promote the program to their clients.
"Our level of child poverty in Manitoba is among the highest [in Canada]," she said.
According to a report released by Campaign 2000, Manitoba's child and family poverty rate was 27.5 per cent — the highest of any province and more than 10 per cent above the national rate of 17.4 per cent.